I can see clearly now

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Friday dawned gloriously clear. So what did we do?

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(The Sibillini Mountains from my bedroom this morning)

Went to Ikea, in Ancona (about an hour’s drive). I can’t say that I’ve “shopped” in an Ikea before. I had lunch in one, but that doesn’t really count. Now I can say that I have done my time. And this time, I accompanied a woman on a mission. We spent close to six hours there. Dear sweet baby Jesus, pray for me. At one point I went out to the parking lot to measure the car for a large piece of furniture we were contemplating. The shopper experience is so well designed, it took me 30 minutes to get out of the store (“you can check in any time you like, but you can never leave”). I felt like Walter in “On Golden Pond.” There’s an up escalator, but no down. I could see the entrance we used from the floor above, but could not get there. Crazy making. I had to make the entire 3-floor odyssey all the way down through the warehouse and final checkout to finally exit the building. A nightmare.

But some cool sh@t, for sure.

I was so exhausted last night, I didn’t post this. Incidentally, last night was the first night since I’ve been here that I went to bed before midnight. It finally caught up with me. So pardon the delay.

We tried desperately to find the LSU-Arkansas game (a family tradition) online last night, but no luck (web’s still weirding out on us). But I deduce that the Tigers won. Geaux Tigers!

Today is another beautiful day, so we’re going to go to Tolentino and see the Basilica of St. Nicholas.

Ciao.

They're crafty like that

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Craftsmanship.

It still means something here in Le Marche Province. It means “that is the only way we do things here—the right way.” Tonight we visited an Antichitta—basically an antique shop—and looked at several pieces that ranged from 150-400 years old. They were beautiful and very useful. Not museum pieces, but items of everyday living that people have been using for centuries. The prices were not astronomical. In fact, Massimo, the proprietor, told us that the 300-year old, $1,400 walnut chest we looked at would have cost $6,000 some 6-8 years ago, but the market is not what it used to be.

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From Mass’ place, we went to ArredoTenda, a small shop/factory/ “laboratorio” that hand-makes beautiful furniture. Stefano Belfiore, who’s owned the place with his brother Gianni for 30 years, gave us a tour. “If there are two ways to do something, I will pick the harder way,” he said. I liked him right away. (That’s a leather blind he’s holding. “Very inexpensive,” he said.)

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 The way they do things is… bellisima. It’s starts with beautiful Italian design, adds in high-quality ingredients and ends with meticulous, caring, artful execution. The result is… well, it just confirms that there is a place in the world for people who care deeply about what they do and insist on putting something of themselves in every single piece they produce. While the Italian economy is not exactly robust, the market for high-quality goods has not sagged. People here may own just one or two suits (and not five or seven), but they’re hand tailored and locally made. We were trying to find the equivalent of a Goodwill store to take some unneeded household items. Our friend told us there’s really nothing like that here, because people don’t really get rid of things. High quality materials tend to stick around.

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(Mechanics aren’t the only ones with calendar girls.)

The evening ended, of course, with a lovingly crafted meal at Casa Mia. There were only two occupied tables in the romantic place situated in the castle walls of Tolentino town. All of the ingredients came from within a few miles of where we sat. That’s not trendy; that’s just the way it’s done here. Always has been. As we were about to leave, the proprietors, Palmira and Paulo, talked to us for a long time about the restaurant and their customers… Paulo said he’d much rather have a few loyal customers who appreciate what they do than to have a whole lot of transient diners who didn’t really give much thought to what was put before them.

Just before we headed for the door, Paulo went to the kitchen and brought back a treasure to proudly share with us: white truffles, kept in a mason jar like an 8-year old’s secrets. I’ve never seen a whole truffle—only shavings of them. Here were three plump, fragrant bulbs probably worth hundreds of Euros, bursting with flavor and care and promise. He was so excited to show us these ingredients foraged by a local friend and supplier. This intoxicating aroma triggered in me olfactory memories of earlier, incredible earthly delights that I won’t mention here. I envy the diners who will enjoy them in the coming meals.

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Craftsmanship. You can see it, feel it, smell it and most certainly taste here in Le Marche

 

Heeeere's Johnny!

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It’s been a quiet day at Casa Mosaica. We’re basically snowed in. We could get out, and I actually did go for a short drive on the freshly-plowed road, just to prove I could. But to go much farther, we’d probably have to put chains on, and I just wasn’t going there. So we stayed in and worked around the house.

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I’ve had fleeting visions of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” at various points in the day. But not to worry. I’m not given to bouts of violence. Bouts of self-doubt, self-loathing, depression, manic-depression, twitches and gas, yes. Violence, no.

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 I love the snow. I spent seven years in Idaho as a kid and simply can’t NOT go out in it to this day. So I was glad when Lisa (the former owner of the house) called from England today and suggested that we might want to go out and knock the wet, heavy snow off the 72 olive trees to prevent limb breakage. I’ve been worried about not getting enough exercise… no more. Part of the orchard is on about a 35-45° angled hillside, and with 6-8 inches of wet, heavy snow, at about 33°F, I did get a good workout. Also lost feeling in two of my fingertips. I’m really, really hoping it comes back. I’m rather fond of those two fingers.

Side note: Olive wood smells really good when it’s burning in the fireplace– sweet. I wasn’t sure we were burning olive wood until I got up close and personal with the trees during the snow-knocking. I’d love to grill something over it.

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 The interwebs have been very much hit and miss today. I’d try to go to a site, and I’d get an all-text version. It feels like I’m on dial-up. Haven’t had problems up to now, so I’m supposing it has something to do with the weather. I’m about to switch browsers and see if that has an affect (from Safari to Firefox).

 Glass of local Rosso Piceno to go with our garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes and salad—with our own olive oil and vinegar dressing… a fine, simple supper.

 After knocking the snow off 72 olive trees, I’m plumb tuckered out. I’m excited because I’ve got a Skype call scheduled tomorrow with my three offspring. Been missing those guys. Hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving tomorrow. Night, y’all.

 

In case of emergency

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“In caso neve o gniacchio”

We see these signs on the way up the mountain to Casa Mosaica. We had worried that there might actually be a law that sai you had to have snow chains on your tires after November 15, but our friend Bob said that’s just for the motorways. Which is bassackwards, as the motorways get the most traffic and attention. Even so, after the 10cm of snow last night, our little country road was plowed cleared. Clio looks good in her white bonnet.

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And the house didn’t look too bad, either.

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We drove down the mountain to the town to do our errands and found it snow-less. After an aperitivo, we headed back up to the house and made this:

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As we were putting the dishes away, it started snowing again. 

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So, I think I’ve got it figured out now. In case neve o gniacchio, (in case of snow or ice), do this:

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Aside

Every week, I wait… I get through M-F, make it through the weekend, then ‘long about Sunday night, I start to see the light. Every Monday night, a group of my guy friends go to Pint Night (or Nite) at the Flying Saucer (link), where “most draft beers are $3.” Most. Mostly, I can find one of my favored Pale Ales (Sierra Nevada almost always, Diamond Bear sometimes, Boulevard hardly ever, even though it’s ALWAYS on the extensive beer menu). And sometimes I’ll try something different – something out of my wheelhouse. (Hey, it’s just three bucks.)

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I’m missing Pint Night tonight, so I bought myself a bottle of a local brew to celebrate (or commiserate)—Il Maestro Birrificio’s Route 77 Birra Ambrata (Amber Beer). It’s a pale ale made with American hops. Very, very tasty. A good-sized 75 centiliter bottle, 5.8% alcohol, hopped just enough, slight bite, scant notes of fruit. Really nice. I was surprised that the brewery (with seating for all of four people) did not have their wares on tap, or “alla spine.” But they had several varieties in bottles in the cooler. So, I bought one from the lovely Federica and drank this for the Pint Night guys back home, who graciously invited me into this sacred circle last year… a circle that’s been around for some ten years.

We stayed in today and worked around the house, as we were expecting a visitor. I re-sealed the kitchen woodstove and the living room fireplace. They’re predicting snow tonight or tomorrow, so I’m impatiently waiting the 12-24 hour curing period for the high-temp adhesive to set. Will definitely fire them up tomorrow.

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The police came to visit us today. An unpleasant local carabinieri lady had to verify that my sister did actually exist and that she is actually here in the flesh, occupying the house, in order to establish her (part time) residency here. She’s been working on this process for about a year and a half. The three colors of Italy’s flag are red, white and green, in equal parts. The red really should be much larger in proportion, to go with the gargantuan amounts of red tape you have to wade through (and wait through) to do pretty much anything official here.

Is it worth the wait? To live here even part time, I mean? I can’t answer for you. You’ve seen some of the photos and read about some of my experiences here in Le Marche. I didn’t know what I was missing at Pint Night until I was invited to join in. But those guys– and that regular Monday guy-get together—they’ve made a world of difference in my life.

That Route 7 Birra Ambrata… it was reeeeally good. A memorable quaff to be sure. Well worth the drive to Urbisaglia, one walled hilltop town away from where I sit tonight.

 

Domenica

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Domenica is Sunday in Italian. It’s also a great John Besh restaurant in New Orleans, my former hometown. http://domenicarestaurant.com

Because it’s Sunday, I’ll try to keep this short. I thought about not writing at all today, but I did say “a month in Italy,” so I feel obligated. Not that writing ever feels like an obligation to me– I love it. Love the craft of it all. And I’ve been fortunate to make my living doing it for 20+ years. But I digress.

I’ve been trying to meet up with some local rock climbers and had success yesterday. Because the weather has been cold and rainy, I stopped by Arterisko, the climbing gym in nearby Macerata. http://www.arterisko.com The guy at the desk spoke about as much English as I spoke Italian, but another climber heard us and came over. Roberto was super friendly and helpful. He lived in New York with his Italian parents until age 8, so his English is very good (better than even he thinks). And he clearly enjoyed practicing it with me. He invited me to a “climbing party” today, Domenica. Roberto is actually from the independent country San Marino, just north of us, and heads up the local climbing/mountaineering club. The occasion for the party– the club was also hosting a “teachers teaching teachers” session with a high-profile Italian climber named Roberto Caruso, who has put out some videos on his “Metodo Caruso” for training and climbing.

Had a lot of fun, met some nice folks, climbed a few routes, learned some of the “Metodo Caruso” on some boulder problems and had some great finocchio– a sausage from Umbria made with lots of garlic– that’s it being sliced on the reception desktop.

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From the gym, or  “il piramide,”

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We went to Urbisaglia, an ancient walled town near us. The main structure, a military fortress, was built in the 1500s, near some Roman ruins that are now being excavated.

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Urbisaglia, like many towns in the area, is a hilltop town, so from our perch on the spine of this hill, we saw the storm coming up to engulf us in rain.

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The clouds got much, much darker than you see here. So we did what apparently most other locals do on a Sunday when snow is forecast for tomorrow evening: we went shopping. Stocked up a bit on prosciutto, cheese, fruits and veggies, a little vino… had a nice supper of antipasti and homemade vegetable soup and that brings me up to… now. I’m tired from a pretty good day of climbing and braving the shopping malls of Tolentino, so I bid you Buona Note.  

 

 

These are a few of my favorite things

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I wake up with a different song in my head every day. Can’t really help it. Julie Andrews singing “These are a few of my favorite things” was NOT my Song of The Day today, but it DID come up sometime during the day and got stuck in my tiny brain. So I started thinking about some of my favorite things. Like…

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Local food. Here, olives, cheese, bread, a spreadable sausage, prosciutto and another kind of hearty Italian ham, our Primi Piatti at the agriturismo near San Ginesi where we ate last night.

Lamb…

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Here, grilled by the little nonna who ran the agriturismo. It was my dessert (after pasta and insalata).

New friends, old family.

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A fire in the hearth. There was discussion tonight about whether we actually needed one, since the boiler is now working and we have heat (thank you, Baby Jesus), but who said anything about “need”? I’ve always enjoyed a fire. Some of my best, most delicious memories are of me sitting in my father’s lap by the fireplace on a cold winter night. He loved it as much as I. He knew, as I do now, that staring into a fire is therapeutic, revealing, reflective, magic. I can see the past, and hear the future in the crackle and hiss. Memories dance as smoke on the rise. The world as it might be plays and flickers briefly before my warming face. I played and sang a few songs on my guitar to the empty room and wondered is it the song that makes you cry, or the playing of it, or the circumstances and memories of another playing of the song, at another time, in another space… Maybe I shouldn’t play that song anymore. But I love it so. It’s one of my favorite things.