It's 2011 in Spoleto!

We have officially rung in the New Year,
Spoleto-style!


After dinner with Nick and Meghan in our apartment, Steve and I dodged exploding fireworks as we headed to Piazza Garibaldi, steps from our apartment.  We danced to the blasting music that will continue until 5 AM. 

Fireworks are sold in every grocery store here and we were constantly bombarded while dancing and walking.  Exciting and a bit scary.  When midnight arrived, official fireworks filled the sky and made us realize the ringing in our ears was so worth it!  Spoleto did it spectacularly well.

Wishing you unforgettable experiences in 2011.  Felice Anno Nuovo!

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Scrabble and Dinner with friends...

We had a really nice evening with my 'boss' from the library, Silvia, and her husband, Matteo.  We dined and played SCRABBLE®.  We all learned new words from one another and delighted in each other's company. 

Un giorno senza pasta è un giorno sprecato.
Italian to English Translation:
A day without pasta is a day wasted.

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Stinco is Yum-O

We have been introduced to many wonderful people and things by our friend, Laurie but I never thought I'd be excited by a food item purposely called Stinco and pronounced in the unappetizing way, stink oh!

Stinco, or whole pork shank, is the extremity of the pig's leg, between elbow and wrist in the foreleg or knee and ankle in the hind leg. It is conveniently sold, precotto (pre-cooked) where one just boils it in a bag of its own seasoning.  Served with roasted rosemary potatoes and Italian green cauliflower, Stinco has become our new favorite evening meal.

As a side note:  I'm really loving the spiky curd, cauliflower we found here called "Romanesco broccoli".  It may be in the US but I don't remember seeing it.  It is not only delicious but beautiful to look at. Interestingly (to me) Romanesco's head is an example of a fractal image in nature, repeating itself in self-similarity at varying scales.  I will never look at broccoli in the same way again.  Buon appetito!

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Sightseeing in Spoleto...

A day strolling Spoleto in the glorious sunshine was the perfect way to spend our last hours with Massimo and Pinuccia.  We even learned some things which makes it an even more special day.

While at the Duomo, we met some interesting "Heralds of the Gospel".  We were enthralled with their costumes and had to know more.

Comprised mainly of young people, this Association is established in 57 countries. Its members practice celibacy, and are entirely dedicated to apostolate, living in separate houses designated for young men and young women.Their life of recollection, study and prayer alternates with evangelizing activities in dioceses and parishes, with special emphasis placed on the formation of youth.

After a late lunch in the library and a leisurely stroll home, we did a driving tour of the environs, stopping at two beautiful churches and one really fun store.  It has been a wonderful visit with our amici and we will meet again in March for a weekend in The Dolomites (Italy's northern mountains).

Go often to the house of thy friend,
for weeds choke the unused path.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Final Stop- Gubbio and the World's Largest Christmas Tree

Gubbio is a delightful town rich with history.  We strolled its streets briefly awaiting the illumination of its Guinness Book of World Records tree.

The tree is 650 m high and 350 m wide at its base and consists of 730 multi-colored lights and 8.5 kilometres of electrical cable, placed all the way up the slopes of Monte Ingino, which towers above the city. It can be seen from a distance of 50 kilometres away.

I have wanted to see the brilliance of this tree since we were in Gubbio last Fall.  It generated "che bello" from all of us. 

Our Umbria aperitivo was a huge success.  Tomorrow, we explore our own little town of Spoleto.

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An afternoon of Chocolate...

With our pockets guiltily filled with samples, we toured the Perugina Chocolate factory in a small city outside Perugia.

We were told that because of the "secrecy" of their chocolate Easter egg production, we could not photograph the tour of the very interesting factory.  I could not help but think of the famous
I Love Lucy episode.

Their most famous product are the "Baci", chocolate "kisses" filled with hazelnut, wrapped in a multilingual love note.  Perugina added the paper scrolls in the 1930s. While accounts of the love notes' origins vary, they were an instant hit. The messages of affection, warmth, or friendship, made Baci the ideal gift that could communicate the giver's sentiment as it delighted the recipient with its unique flavor and charm. 

It was a sweet way to spend the afternoon and we learned a great deal about chocolate production.

There's nothing better than a good friend,
except a good friend with CHOCOLATE
Linda Grayson, "The Pickwick Papers"

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Todi...first stop of the day

We began our morning in the picturesque town of Todi. 
A favourite weekend destination, the charm of Todi continues unabated. Perched on its impregnable rocky hill, the Medieval flavour of this town rich in monuments and things to see continues to attract quality tourism from Italy and abroad.

Lunch was at Hotel Ristorante Siro in the hilltop town of Torgiano.  The restaurant, recommended by a florist had delicious food and wonderful service.  The town is a place we promise to return to another day.



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Our first house guests have arrived!

Massimo and PInuccia arrived from Lecco (Milan) for their first escape to Umbria.  In 2003, I toured Italy with a large group with my then English professor/friend Michelle, Massimo's cousin.  While the others went on an explore of Pisa, Michelle and I were escorted to the darling town of Montecatini for an entire day of all things "truly Italian".

This was my first exposure to the kindness and hospitality of amici and we have been friends ever since.  So after dinner and catching up, we played SCRABBLE® (they in English, we in Italian) and headed to bed.  Tomorrow, a road trip through Umbria.

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Brenton & Christy's First Anniversary...

A year ago our oldest son married the girl of his dreams and gave us the daughter we had always wanted.  We couldn't be happier.

Here's to happily-ever-afters!  Congratulations Brenton & Christy.

Life  has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other
but in  looking outward together in the same direction. 
~Antoine de  Saint-Exupéry

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Presepe Part 2

When looking at the first posting for St. Francis' Nativity, Steve felt it needed more explanation in photos.  I hope the pageantry is depicted here.

While we were waiting to enter, people around us were drinking something warm.  Steve and were looking about to determine what it was.  I thought espresso, he guessed mulled wine.  Moments later, the gentleman behind us, with whom we had not interacted, walked up with a wine for Steve.  So not only was he right, he got a cup of delicious warmth too.

We have been embraced numerous times with the kindness of Italians, since arriving in Italy.  I'm feeling such warmth and it's not the mulled wine!

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St. Francis and the first Nativity...

We spent our day in the small town of Greccio.  We began at the Franciscan sanctuary, perched on the edge of a cliff-- a very dramatic, and true testament to the fortitude of St. Francis and the location of his "grotto".

Famous as the place where, in December 1223, St. Francis devised the first living nativity (presepe).

Francis, recalling a visit he had made years before to Bethlehem, resolved to create the manger he had seen there. The ideal spot was a cave in nearby Greccio. He would find a baby, hay upon which to lay him, an ox and an ass to stand beside the manger. Word went out to the people of the town. At the appointed time they arrived carrying torches and candles. One of the friars began celebrating Mass while Francis himself gave the sermon. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, recalls that Francis stood before the manger, overwhelmed with love and filled with a wonderful happiness. For Francis, the simple celebration was meant to recall the hardships Jesus suffered even as an infant, a savior who chose to become poor for our sake, a truly human Jesus.

Each year, the reenactment of St. Francis' efforts to create a living nativity is performed in front of 2,000 cold but enthralled spectators.  It is difficult to explain how magical our night was.  Huddled together 'witnessing' St. Francis realizing his dream and sharing his convictions, in the actual location of an event that happened 787 years ago... very spectacular and somewhat surreal.

"Remember that when you leave this earth,
you can take with you nothing that have received--
only what you have given."
-St. Francis

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Our International & Fabulous 'Italian' Christmas

We celebrated our family-less holiday in the company of the most warm, family-like people of six differing countries.  Our hosts, Laurie and Norma gathered an interesting array of guests and served an equally interesting menu.

In traditional Umbrian style, we began with the most delicious lentil soup (the only leftovers we went home with because there wasn't much left). Our entrée was two different meats:  roasted turkey and porchetta (pork that is famous regionally). 

Our contribution was a course of tacos.  Norma had never had tacos so to watch this elegant woman eat hers with a knife and fork was almost a gift in itself.

Numerous types of roasted vegetables, my favorites- fresh brussel sprouts, fruit salad, Christmas chutney, tiramisu and another cake, whose name I don't remember but whose taste will not be forgotten, composed our feast.

Gathered for this Spoleto event were:  The five Harveys from Australia; Robert, Rachel & Gail from England; Sara from Ireland; Newlyweds and Newly Phds Nick & Meghan from America; our only Italian, Alessandro; our British hosts and us.  We then all joyously concluded our meal with a sparkler celebration compliments of Gail.  Nothing says a party like sparklers.

Our holiday ended with a loving Skype conversation with the entire family at Steve's folks.

Christmas ... is not an eternal event at all,
but a piece of one's home
that one carries in one's heart...
- Freya Stark 

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Merry Christmas from Italy!

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Nativity Scenes by children... too cute!

My favorite travel quote is by James Michener, "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home". 

Part of what I really wanted to do, while in Italy, is learn about its customs and Christmas time is a great opportunity!

Traditionally, the main focus of Christmas decorations in Italy is the Nativity scene, presepe or presepio in Italian. Every church has a presepe and they can be found in squares, shops, and other public areas. Displays often go beyond the manger scene and may even include a representation of the entire village.

The Nativity scene is said to have originated with St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 when he constructed a nativity scene in a cave in the town of Greccio and held Christmas Eve mass and a nativity pageant there. Greccio reenacts this event each year (we will be going there the day after Christmas).

The school children of Spoleto created some really darling presepe and put them on display.  The three we enjoyed the most are the one made of "sand bottles", the 'Outer Space' Nativity and our ultimate favorite, The Pasta Presepio.

Being as I'm a huge fan of the pasta, it was wonderful to see the use of this delectable treat.  There are roughly 350 different shapes and varieties of dried pasta in Italy, even more counting regional differences. Shapes range from simple tubes to bow ties (farfalle, which actually means "butterfly"), to unique shapes like tennis rackets (racchette).  The children cleverly used dozens of different shapes and we were so impressed by the creativity.

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