Ciao Ciao for now

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We cleaned up and closed up the house Tuesday morning and drove to visit the archaeological museum at Urbisaglia.

http://www.the-marche-experience.com/products/urbisaglia/

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Aperto

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Chiuso 

The Museum is in the hilltop town of Urbisaglia, while the Roman ruins of Urbs Salvia are down on the plain below the town. It was originally a fairly large and strategic settlement, featuring an amphitheater, arena and aqueduct, most of which still remain. When the town was overrun by barbarians and abandoned by the Romans, many fled to the hilltop, where the medieval town was located for strategic and defensive reasons.

Weather the last week or so has been gorgeous, and Tuesday was no different. We got some incredible views of the Sibillini Mountains as we drove down through Abruzzo, passing the still-rebuilding town of L’Aquila—wracked by the 2009 earthquake.

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Got to Rome right around dusk. Kerry did admirably driving in rush hour Roman traffic. And it is unlike anything anywhere. Armies of scooters pay no attention to traffic signs, patterns, or cars. Tiny cars and big trucks dart everywhere. And it goes on forever. Since the audio on our GPS went out, I navigated, calling out turns to her. We both needed a drink by the time we got to our hotel. Hotel Santa Maria is in the Trastavere neighborhood and was a bargain at 119 Euros (10% discount if you pay in cash). http://www.htlsantamaria.com/english/index.htm

Beautiful, neat, clean, super nice family who runs it. We had an aperitivo at the bar, talked over our adventures, and then set out to walk around Rome a bit and then grab dinner, our last in Italy for a while.

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Rome is a great walking city. You can follow a map, or better yet, throw the map away, walk a neighborhood, and prepare to be amazed every time you round a corner.  Do it. Because even at midnight, you can find a great pizza and a nice tall Moretti Baffo d’Oro (“Golden Whisker” whaaa?).

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As I write this, I’m waiting out my 3-hour layover in Atlanta, waiting on the final leg home to Little Rock. It’s midnight in Italy, and I’m feeling it after about 5 hours of sleep last night and only 1-2 on the 11 hour flight from Rome. A bit tired to make any great pronouncements or keen observations. Maybe tomorrow. Peace out.

Arrivederci, Paterno

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Tonight is our last night in Paterno. We’ve cleaned house, put unneeded items in the attic, checked all the doors, locks and various padlocks around the property. There are about 36 keys to which lock I know not. Most of the locks have found their keys. We’re washing the last load of laundry. We went into town to get a photocopy of Kerry’s brand spanking new Italian Identification card (turns out we didn’t need it after all, since Bob’s new printer has a scanner/copier). The copy was needed in order to attach to a letter to the phone company to terminate the landline service. Nothing is exactly simple here. Kevin, her American real estate agent, took his daughter to the US Embassy in Rome the other day to get her passport. His Italian friends were incredulous that it took him all of 16 minutes inside the embassy to accomplish this task. In Italy…? Days, weeks, months… who knows?

So instead of getting the copy, we got pizza at a restaurant we hadn’t tried in Ripo San Ginesio. Excellent pizza. We declined dulce after dinner, but when the waitress learned we were not locals, she brought us some of the local Christmas cake and little glasses of vino cotto, a sweet, fortified Christmas wine, for dipping the cake in. A nice little treat. Caught a gorgeous sunset on the drive. Our visitors this evening even mentioned it.

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Our little Renault Clio gets 52 miles a gallon, maybe more. I shouldn’t say “little,” because it’s really not. It would be considered an economy or intermediate car in a US rental fleet. A small station wagon, it seats five, has good cargo space and is about the size of a Toyota Matrix. Like most cars here, it’s diesel. No, it doesn’t smoke (but takes a long time to warm up). It gets 52 miles a gallon. Did I mention that? Let me say it again. FIFTY TWO MILES A GALLON. And there are far thriftier cars running around here. I’m happy if my car at home gets half that. Why oh why can’t US car buyers get cars like this? 

Classic Italian bureaucracy. Amazing fuel mileage. They shouldn’t really go together, but they do. Like pasta and wine. Olive oil and vinegar. Sea salt and pepper.

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Tomorrow, we’ll tour the Roman ruins at Urbisaglia (the Roman settlement was actually Urbs Salvia and was down the hill from the medieval town of Urbisaglia. More on that tomorrow. And on Rome—where we’ll spend the night and board our flight back home on Wednesay. Buona Note. 

Babbo Natale is coming to town

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I swear I’m not a Grinch. But the “Christmas Spirit” has been a bit elusive for me of late. But I caught a glimpse of it tonight in Il Centro in Tolentino. We knew there was some sort of festa going on, and that it had something to do with Christmas.

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Did not know it was “Cioccaloto Natale,” or “Chocolate Christmas.” About 20 booths each had their own special hand made chocolates. A video screen carried an Italian game show, which transfixed many in the crowd (go figure). Kids and families were everywhere. Tolentino has planted a Christmas tree in the middle of the plaza—I mean really planted it. They built up a huge pile of earth, covered it with real grass and shrubs and put a 15 meter tall tree in the center of it all. Really pretty.

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We wandered around and sampled a few of the chocolate booths. Our friend Stephano Belfiore, the furniture craftsman, recognized us and called us over to the booth his family and friends ran. https://fitzwritesinitaly.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/theyre-crafty-like-that/ It’s nice to be able to say “I know that guy” after spending a few weeks here.

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Their specialty was chocolate covered chestnuts (you can see them roasting chestnuts here over an open fire). Oh, dear God. With the hot mulled wine (vin brule) we bought from another booth… yes, it warmed our cockles. I didn’t see Babbo Natale—the Italian Santa Claus—but I did see an Emmet Kelly lookalike clown on break—he was having a vino cotto with a very stylish Italian couple.

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From Tolentino we went to Ripo San Ginesio, where we had heard of another Christmas festival, the Presepio. We actually got there just as it was closing up, but the first person we saw really wanted us to see it, so he let us in (and didn’t charge us the 4Euro per head entry). We learned that the Presepio is a collection and competition of Nativity scenes.

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When I first realized that, I was ready to go get some more vin brule. But this tiny medieval town had blocked off their tiny streets and alleyways and set up 17 different hand-made Nativity scenes throughout the town.

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It was really pretty amazing. The intricately crafted designs ranged from a huge sand sculpture to more modest desk-tip sized displays. Each showed incredible workmanship and detail that was just mind-boggling. And since it had officially closed, we three were free to roam the tiny village alone. Really glad we did.

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(This one was made entirely of wheat)

Earlier, at Tolentino, I gazed up at the town’s official Christmas tree, saw the happy, bundled-up families wandering about giddily, and looked around at what we Americans would call a small-town affair. The thing that got me is that it’s not commercialized– nor was Ripe San Ginesio. It’s very subtle and sweet and real and beautiful. The way Christmas ought to be. That’s when I caught my glimpse. So I sidled up to my sister and our friend Bob and thought “we need a picture.” Enjoy.

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I did.

 

Flush with victory

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One of the things I love most about travel is seeing how other people do the very same things you do every day at home. Whether it’s cooking or dressing or washing a car or getting around a city or country… We may think we’ve got it all down and that ours is the only way– or the best way– to do things. But there are many ways. Some have more style, some are more efficient, and some just make you go “huh?”

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Mountain Towns and Dancing Shoes

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I love the mountains. Love looking at them, and even more being out in them. So one of the things on my tick list while in Italy was to get to the mountains. Most people know about the Italian Alps, in the northwest. A few more know about the Dolomites, in the northeast. I was not familiar with the Sibillinis, which actually run pretty much down the spine of “the boot” of Italy.

They’re at their highest and most beautiful in Le Marche, where the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini is located. http://www.sibillini.net/en/index.htmlImage

So we drove first to Sarnano and then to Amandola, about 30-45 minutes south of us. Both are picturesque walled towns in the mountains. Both are fascinating to wander through. They’re both built at the top of a rise at the foot of higher mountains. So the streets circle the hill, dividing it into level or layers. It sounds orderly—sort of. But walking around these narrow vias and vicolos, you could easily get lost. And that’s part of the fun of it—at least to me. It’s also a great way to get to the top of a very steep hill—traversing back and forth past storybook castle-like homes that have been occupied for the better part of a millennium.

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The snow that affected us affected these mountain towns even more. Our puny 20 cm of snow paled in comparison to their meter of snow. We had a couple of warmer, sunny days, and thanks to their experience and preparedness, the streets were completely clear. Heading up the mountain toward the rifugio (mountain retreat), we wondered what the mountain road would be like. Let me just say it got worse the higher we went. But the snowplows had been there, God bless’em. We stopped before they did. We could have gone farther, but we didn’t have snow tires or chains. Still, the views were worth it. Saw a pack of wild boar on the way down—probably 12-15 of the hairy beasts. Tried to get a pic, but they were too skittish.

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I don’t have a shoe fetish, but I do have a pair of Italian shoe that I got 20+ years ago that make me very happy. I call them my dancing shoes. Low-cut loafer in an oxblood color I’ve never seen anywhere else. Leather sole so you can slide on the dance floor. I’ve had them resoled 6-8 times over their lifespan, I love them that much. Another item on my Italy tick list was finding a pair of Italian shoes to replace them (well, supplement them, at least). Success! Le Marche happens to be home to several nice Italian shoe makers, and they have “venditta diretta” stores (outlets, basically) where they sell direct for cheap.

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We visited a couple of shops in Monegranaro and got a tour of the last one, Piampiani, in Civitanova. Its not Prada or Bruno Magli, but they had some gorgeous shoes, and they’re made by actual people (who use machines—but still – very high-touch). When you think of “Italian shoes” and you think of Gepetto in a little shop with a hammer and some thread, you’re not alone. You’re wrong, but not alone. They DO make prototypes very much by hand, with hand stitching and the little cobbler’s lasts, etc. But when it comes to manufacturing shoes, they… manufacture.

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But again, it’s very high touch and there are real people touching the work and making sure it is high quality. The women’s boots… que bella. So, yes, I got a new pair of dancing shoes.

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Now, to hit the dance floor. Ladies…?

 

Buck Knives and Open Borders

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Our friends Bob and Francesco came over for dinner tonight. (oliviotree.com) They (Francesco mainly) cooked for us a while back  (https://fitzwritesinitaly.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/buona-note/).

So it was our turn. I cooked a chicken-sausage gumbo. “First, you make a roux…” They’d never had gumbo (not sure gumbo has ever been served in Le Marche, actually) and really liked it. I was quite pleased. They’re both quite well traveled and well versed in wine and food, so I was hesitant to say the least. But for an excellent Italian cook to say my dish was good… well, it made my heart leap up.

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(Wine, water, oil, vinegar)

 We talked about travel a lot, and how with the EU’s open borders, Europeans travel more than Americans. Francesco’s family is from Naples, in the south of Italy. Every summer his family would spend all of July in the north of Italy in a little mountain village in the Dolomites. The Dolomites just happen to be on my rock climbing bucket list.

We’d had a really productive day around Casa Mosaico. Bob did a lot of plumbing for us (hot water at the kitchen sink, thank you baby Jesus), and I did my odds and ends—door knob for the guest bathroom, chopping kindling wood for the fireplaces, hanging the 8 cup hooks on the newly hung cabinet, clearing leaves from the pool cover, etc. After dinner, over dulce, I asked Bob if he carried a pocketknife. I have 2-3 at home, but never got in the habit of carrying one regularly. My father always did. 

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(Fine Italian design… it’s everywhere. This is the carrier for our dessert dish)

I happen to pack mine for this trip… as it happens, a nice Buck knife my father gave me when I was probably a teenager. I’ve kept it sharpened and oiled all these years, but just never got in the habit of having it in my pocket on a daily basis. Fitz (my father) was a country doctor, so surgery was only one of the many things he did in his practice. Fine steel was always important to him. From his scalpels to his hunting knives to his daily pocket knife. He passed that appreciation on to me. A fine, sharply honed kitchen knife is a joy to me to this day, and I always keep a sharp Gerber folding knife on my climbing harness.

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So, bucking my usual habits, I packed Fitz’ Buck knife with me on this trip. I find myself reaching for it several times a day here. Every day. Slicing open the packing around some dishes sorella stashed in the attic; prying out an errant screw I just mis-placed; cutting apart the sashes that held together sorella’s old twin bedframes (in preparation for the new frame delivered by our new favorite store, Fallimenti); carving up an apple for an impromptu al fresco lunch; getting the seemingly ever-present gunk from under my nails (please don’t tell my now-departed mother. She’d think it uncouth.) I don’t feel dressed unless it’s in my front pocket now (handkerchief ever-present in the back).

So what do good food, good friends, travel, and pocket knives have to do with each other? I’m still working on that. But I think that when you open yourself up to new experiences, you become a more versatile and useful utensil of the universe. Something that will deliver when called upon. Something that adds to the experience at hand. Something that can slice prosciutto, pecorino fresco and pears and still slit open a love letter with grace and aplomb.

Peace out.