Market Day, I meet an Italian fox

Standard

We drove into town today to get sorella’s identification card (she’s actually a full-on resident now—at least part time). Her attorney said everything’s easier with the ID card. But the comune office (like a county, sorta) wasn’t open. Discovered that Tuesday is Market Day here. Until about noon, the streets, il centro and the many piazzas around the downtown area are filled with vendors selling clothes, foods, spices, vegetables, meats, fabric, yarn and other assorted stuff.

Image

 

Image

We wandered around a bit and I got a few gift ideas, but made no purchases. Some of the merchandise was nice—fairly high quality at decent prices (not bargain basement) and some was just cheap junk. Not a lot of cheap junk, considering the number of vendors. Every street we went down seemed to have an open space filled with vehicles and awnings and kiosks and stands. I passed by an upscale brick-and-mortar store and saw the clerk arranging her merchandise unbothered by customers. I wondered how the local shops felt about market day. The residents were certainly out in the streets in full force.

Image

Image

Image

While mi sorella went into town to try for the third time to get her ID card, I spent the afternoon hanging towel racks, clothes racks, cleaning up and siphoning off the rain from the pool cover. I did this last bit about dark and noticed out of the corner of my eye something dart around the yard. I turned and found myself face to face with the famous Foxy Loxy (so named by the previous homeowners, Ben and Lisa). A beautiful, nervous little animal about the size of a very large and long-legged housecat. He came within 8-10 feet of me. I got a few (bad) photos of him. When I would try to get closer, he would dart off just out of reach. As I went about my yard work, I saw him bump a tennis ball under a bush. I retrieved the ball and whistled for him. To my surprise, he approached cautiously. I threw the ball and sure enough, he bounded off after it, grabbing it in his pointy little mouth.

 

Image

Image

Image

 

I was kinda sad when he left (with the ball). I was alone again, but I glanced up and was struck by the incredibly beautiful starlit sky above me. We’re out in the country, so there’s no light pollution. Just millions of bright stars. I immediately picked out Orion and Taurus and the Pleiades, and figured they’ll be back tomorrow evening. Maybe my little fox will, too. 

Advertisements

Iron and Stone, Chapter 2

Standard

Iron and Stone Chapter 2: Stone

From the front walk of Laurence Love’s beautifully restored farmhouse near Treia, we could see the Sibillini Mountains in the distance, and closer, a small mountain topped by what looked like a tall, slender spike or piton. Among the myrid tidbits of interesting information Laurence shared with us, he insisted that if we got to the top of that hill, and saw that torre or tower, it would be unlike anything we’d ever seen. Guaranteed. I was a little skeptical.

After we talked iron and rock and roll and Le Marche for a couple of hours, Laurence sent us off with directions to the torre (and a stop at an agriturismo for lunch). We found the agriturismo easily enough, but there was a sign on the neat little farmhouse: “Chiuso per lutto.” (“Closed for mourning.” Sorry for your troubles.)

So we went off in search of the torre. Laurence had pointed out the mountain next door to the torre and said the view there was almost as good. Almost. As it turned out, we took the wrong road and got to the almost-mountain first. And the view was spectacular, actually looking down a little on Torre Pitino. We backtracked and eventually made it to Pitino.

Image

The last bit of road still held snow and Clio the Renault slipped and slid a bit as she carried us to the top. Laurence had told us incredulously that “they” (not sure who “they” were) stabilized the ruins, put in a new roof on the church, new windows and a locking front door and then left it wide open. Sure enough, the church doors were wide open, I followed piles of cow poop into the sanctuary and was amazed that I was all up in it. No fences, barriers, velvet ropes. Just me and this thousand-year old church and ruined village.

Image

Image

There’s not much of artisitic value left to see inside the main church (except the architecture itself), probably because it had been open to the elements for so long. Wandering around outside, I came to the tower, some 25 meters high and six meters wide at the base, tapering as it rose in to the bluebird sky. There are no ground-level doors, so I couldn’t get all up in it. But I could get all up in the two-meter wide stone city walls. So I climbed up and walked around a bit on the battlements… a dream come true for a kid whose childhood fantasies often included castles in faraway lands.

Image

 

Image

Image

Image

I explored a side chapel and found one faded fresco.

Image

I wandered around the side chapel gazing upward. When I finally looked down, I discovered I was standing in a pile of bones. I couldn’t identify them but hoped there were of one of the cows who pooped in the main church. Our friend Enrico told me the next day that his father (a doctor) used to go with his medical school colleagues to collect and reassemble human bones at Pitino for their anatomy class. Turns out they date from the Napoleonic Wars. Gulp. I was glad I had resisted the urge to take a photo… just seemed disrespectful somehow.

Image

Anyway, the view from Torre Pitino was all that Lawrence had promised and then some. We could see the snow-covered peaks of the Sibillini mountains in the distance, and the beautiful Le Marche farmland all around. We could also see a wall of weather approaching from the Adriatic to the east, a portent of the rain we had the next day. Lawrence had told us hardly anyone goes there anymore, and we were indeed the only ones exploring, which was kinda nice. It was a quiet, windswept, cold, beautiful, contemplative adventure. We basked and warmed in the glow of our discovery all the way back to Paterno.

Image

 

Iron and Stone

Standard

Chapter 1: Iron 

Mi sorella wants an iron bed. So we visited the home and shop of Laurence Love, Master ironworker, on Saturday. The day was gorgeous as we drove the 30 minutes to his home near Treia, in the shadow of Torre Pitino, a 13th Century tower and village ruins. (To be featured in another entry.) 

Image

Image

Laurence and his wife Sandy also run a B&B in their beautiful restored farmhouse with five en suite (with full bath) rooms. (“The only way to succeed is en suite,” he told me.) Laurence showed us his shop and forge, which to my disappointment, was not blazing away on this chilly morning. But it looks exactly like you’d expect a forge to look.

Image

His work is beautiful, artful and personal. When he mentioned his fondness for design, I asked if that’s what he studied. He chuckled and said that he started smithing—actually shoeing horses in England– at age 8 (or 12… I don’t remember– it was cold). After that, his father bought him a portable forge when he was about 17 (apparently there IS such a thing as a portable forge) and he just started making things for people. Within ten years, he was teaching ironwork courses and creating beautiful, intricate, classic designs for huge gates, balconies, furniture, firescreens, fire tools, trellises, beds, tables… the list goes on and on. They could have been made in the 15th century. They’re clearly made to last, and designed to please the eye. He’s another master craftsman of the highest order. And just a heck of a nice, interesting guy to boot. If you don’t commission something from him, consider staying at their B&B.

Image

Image

We talked a lot about music. Le Marche has incredible music fests—jazz, rock, international, folk (including Italian folk) and Laurence is a huge guitar and rock fan. Loves Steve Vai and Alvin Lee and Eric Clapton and Tommy Emmanuel and Mumford and Sons. He was actually in a band ( he plays keyboards) for a good while. Mumford and Sons (one of my faves) played one of their last “small” gigs in Le Marche before they caught fire. Laurence hadn’t heard of them, but went on advice of a friend. He’s hooked now. I didn’t bring my guitar, so we didn’t get to jam, but I’m sure he’d be open for it.

Image

Image

Image

Enjoy a look at some of his exquisite work.  And visit his site: http://ironworkmarche.com/index.htm

Or go stay at their B&B: http://casadegliamori.com

Image

Image

 

I can see clearly now

Standard

Friday dawned gloriously clear. So what did we do?

Image

(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

Standard

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.

Image

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.)

Image

 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.

Image

Image

Image

(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.

Image

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

 

Heeeere's Johnny!

Standard

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.

Image

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.

Image

 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.

Image

 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

Standard

“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.

Image

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

Image

 

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:

Image

 

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

Image

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

Image