Halloween, Italian style...

Steve and I dined, lakeside, with Laurie, Carlotta, Paolo, Enzo, Norma and Gail to celebrate Halloween and friendships.  We have eaten at this restaurant in Clitunno twice before and we are always pleased with the tranquil setting and delicious food.

Our evening passeggiata revealed ghosts, witches and little creatures strolling for treats from the shopkeepers.  Since Halloween is rather new here, the wonderment of it all is still lingering in the air and on the children's faces.  Very spooktacular!

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Cascia: Saffron, Saints and so much more!

Today we took an hour long bus ride to a suburb of Spoleto for its annual "La Mostra Mecato dello Zafferano purissimo di Cascia"... a rather big name for a day of sampling prodotti tipici of the region including the very important and rather rare, saffron.  The beautiful lavender flowers are picked by hand, in the early morning hours, before the sun can damage the stigmas (the red center).  It takes 150-200 flowers to harvest one gram of saffron. 

We strolled and sampled amongst the various booths with food on display.  It was an incredible selection of everything from legumes to marzipan vegetables to truffles (whose scent announced their presence before we were anywhere near).  Lunch was in a quaint
café dining on regional foods of gnocchi flavored with saffron and proscuitto.

As a side note:  when we were at a bus stop, a young woman spoke to the bus driver and handed him a bag of something.  We didn't catch what the conversation involved but a couple of stops later, a different woman approached the driver and he then handed her the parcel.  Just an example of the small town feel we experienced today.  Each place holds a treasure and for us the beauty is in the discovery!

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Patron Saint of the Impossible...

Cascia is also known for Saint Rita (b. 1381), the patron saint of lost and impossible causes, sickness, wounds, marital problems, abuse, and mothers.  It is no wonder it is such an important place of pilgrimage, the most visited in the Umbrian region. 

We toured the hillside, devoted to her.  Numerous stores of "everything St. Rita" filled each street.  Inside the Basilica di Santa Rita we found the Saint herself.  For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church held that individuals of the purest faith remain in a lifelike state after death, their bodies resisting the decay of the grave. 
Rita well interpreted the "feminine genius"
by living it intensely in both physical and spiritual motherhood.
~ Pope John Paul II

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An Italian Dream...A Chestnut harvest!

Yesterday, we were introduced to Leonardo.  While chatting, we told him we would love to pick castagne.  To make a long story short, his dad, Lucciano picked us up this morning for a truly unique, beyond our wildest Italian dreams, day in the Umbrian countryside.

We met with Giancarlo, Anna, and their amazing group of friends for a day of work amongst the chestnut trees.  One does not pick chestnuts, one discovers them, like shiny auburn treasures, hidden within the leaves at the base of trees.  It is truly a treasure hunt and we were thrilled to be included.

At 1:30 PM, we were told we were finished and it was time to eat.  Everyone was moving and talking.  Two men hammered hardy branches into the soil.  Then a large wooden plank became the table top for a dozen hungry 'hunters'.  Anna barbecued the most succulent meat selection while proscuitto was sliced to accompany the roasted bread.  Wine flowed.  Food was savored.  Conversations were enjoyed.  At one point, when the first bottle of red wine was depleted, one of our companions said his "ciaos" until he found the hidden supply.  It was a day that is truly difficult to explain to anyone.  It is exactly what we had hoped to experience and we are still in disbelief that we did.

Non ci ricordiamo dei giorni,
noi ci ricordiamo dei momenti

Italian to English Translation:
We do not remember days,
we remember moments

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Halloween happenings...

There is really nothing quite like experiencing something with "new eyes".  Halloween with children, whether Italian or American, has its delightful components.  Just look at the sweet faces of these children.

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Alive in the Olives...

We have been introduced to Eve, the owner of several olive trees with the promise that I will be able to help her harvest her olives in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, Laurie and Norma keep driving us around the beautiful Umbrian countryside, teasing me and offering my labor to strangers we meet along the roadside.

The olive harvest
is an autumnal ritual that is essential to Italy's agrarian and culinary interests. Olive oil production, as wine production, has been an important economic resource since Etruscan Times. The region of Umbria with its hills, grounds, and climate allow the olive trees to grow and produce superior quality olives with low acidity. The extra virgin olive oil from this region suits the simple genuine and delicious Umbrian gastronomy. The oil is obtained through a process of pressing chilled olives that are found in the foot hills here. The picking of these olives is undertaken entirely by hand. This Oil has an intense green color, a soft olive fragrance and a full rich flavor.  I am eager to be involved in such a long tradition that has such an exceptional byproduct of all the hard work.

"Except the vine, there is no plant
which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive."

-Pliny (AD 23-79)

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A night of music...

We ended our very fun day in a sala of our neighborhood chiesa, the 11th-century Romanesque church of San Gregorio Maggiore to hear beautiful music set amongst history.  A poster in one of the piazzas caught our eye:
The John Powell Singers present a program of sacred choral music in the Basilica of San Gregorio in Maggiore. The choir will perform pieces by Tallis, Byrd, Palestrina, Montevedri, Purcell, Bruckner, Verdi and Durufle. Free entrance.
The voices of the 35 members of this amazing choir joined together in a mesmerizing way.  Steve and I thoroughly delighted in every song from sacred music of the 1500s to modern American music by Eric Whitacre.  Our favorite, however, was the madrigal by Carlo Gesualdo (1566) O la, o che buon eccho!  The director divided the choir and placed half in the balcony.  A beautiful "duet" between the two groups echoed above the heads of the audience.  A wonderful ethereal effect!  We stayed for a few moments after the finale and spoke with the choir.  What a special night.  Walking home, in the cold, under the stars just made the entire day...unforgettable!

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Driving about the countryside with friends...

Laurie and Norma treated us to a drive through the countryside of Umbria for coffee and spectacular views.  We sipped and conversed in the quaint town of Foligno (since 8th century BC). 

It was a brief escape but Steve and I plan to return to explore its Cathedral, Churches and Palazzi.  It is a town, like most in Italy, rich in history.  An inscription on the façade of the Palazzo Orfini (built in 1507) commemorates the printing in April 1472 of Dante's Divine Comedy here by a former pupil of Gutenberg.  This was the first book printed in the Italian language.  Pretty incredible.

We also meandered along La Strada del Sagrantino (the wine road).  The Sagrantino vine is one of the oldest in Umbria and Fall is revealing itself through these vines.  We saw beautiful scenes of hillsides of colorful "quilts".  We stopped, briefly, to watch the harvest of olives.  It is all so what I think of when I think of Italy. 
La vita è un sogno.
Italian to English Translation:
Life is but a dream.

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Books and sharp objects...yikes!

Today, the librarians entrusted us with books from the early 1900s (some even older) and sharp objects to "open" these 100+ year old books.

An unopened book is defined as:
A state where the book's pages at the fore edge and/or top are still joined from the folding. This cannot occur if the book has been properly cut.  At one time many books were issued unopened, and it is not uncommon to find older books still in this pristine state.

A rare book that is unopened may be considerably more valuable than that same book opened.  Therefore, one should consider carefully before opening a book.  Of course, you cannot read a book that is unopened, at least not in its entirety.  At one time, Gentlemen carried a "Paperknife" to open books.

Needless-to-say, while it was stressful to take a letter opener to a book, it was pretty amazing handling something so old and valuable.  Does the excitement ever end?

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends;
they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors,
and the most patient of teachers. 
~Charles W. Eliot

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Story time...Ten little black bats...

I delighted in today's storytime because I was able to participate more.  Prior to book time, each of the children created bats and we mounted them on sticks.  During "Dieci pipistrelli" the story counted down from 10 to 1.  While Sylvia read in Italian, I read in English and the audience waved their bats to go along with the story.  They were so cute and seemed to delight in all of it.

Halloween is being celebrated at the library on Friday.  Steve and I are excited to be a part of it.  The children, their parents and the library are kind and welcoming.

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A Spoleto history lesson...

Spoleto has entranced many a traveler and today, Steve and I again ventured into the woods above town, this time in the footsteps of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  He is considered the most important writer in the German language and the most important thinker in Western culture.

At 37 years old, in 1786, Goethe had a midlife crisis and fled Germany for Italy (sounds familiar).  During the two years he was here, he wrote Italian Journey (still considered the catalyst for most German trips to Italy).

Before crossing Spoleto's famous Ponte delle Torri there is a plaque that reads, "I climbed up to Spoleto and was on the aqueduct which also serves as a bridge between two  mountains. The ten arches of brickwork have stood there so calmly during the centuries, and water still gushes forth everywhere in Spoleto . This, now is the third ancient structure I have seen, all of them with the same grandeur of design..."
(Goethe wrote an entire page in his book just about this bridge).

We continue to learn and experience new things each day we explore Spoleto. 

Traveling is like gambling: it is always connected with winning and losing,
and generally where it is least expected we receive, more or less than what we hoped for.

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Not every day in Italy is Wine & Chocolate

We are learning a great deal about the way things work in Italy.  Friday we had our appointment to be interviewed by the Polizia to stay here for one year.  At a few minutes to 9, our appointment time, we showed up to find a large line of immigrant hopefuls, also wanting to stay here.

Even though their appointments were after ours, it was first come first serve.  After the shock of it, we understood.  One doesn't get to pick his appointment time, it is assigned to you.  The only control you have is arriving before others. 

We waited two hours to be seen followed by: fingerprinting by two different officers; a trip to the post office to purchase Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (Italian insurance); concluding in a return to the police station where we had to demand to be seen to give our proof of insurance.  After four somewhat frustrating hours and a great deal of interesting conversations, we had finished all we could do to be "legal".  Now we sit and wait.  The polizia will come to our apartment, unannounced, to interview us one more time.  Good thing a Year in Spoleto is worth it.

Today was spent cleaning, organizing life, visiting with our neighbors for un caffè and then while Steve attended to business from home, I created crafts for the children's reading group.  Here in Italy, Halloween has been making amazing progress over the past few years.  And I'm doing my part in helping!  Friday, we will be at the library participating in a Halloween party.  I really wish we would have brought costumes.  It is exciting to share some of our culture. 

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A new art exhibit...Luca Bolognesi

Tonight we were invited to a preview of a new exhibit in the Anna Mahler Space.  "Spoleto and Mahler have been inextricably entwined since the sculptress Anna Mahler, the composer Gustav's daughter, made her home here in 1968. Now Marina Mahler (who we met tonight and discussed children going off to college and the great weather in California...she grew up in Los Angeles), daughter of the conductor Anatole Fistoulari and grand-daughter of the composer, has continued that association by making it her main home and by her imaginatively subtle transformation of one of the town's most vibrantly beautiful homes (a small palazzo dating back to the 14th-century) into an oasis of deep calm amidst Spoleto's bustle."

Luca Bolognesi's premiere exhibit of "An Island", his 26 minute video documentary of a small uninhabited island, had a variety of impacts on each member of our group.  I found it to be mesmerizing and I walked away still thinking about it.  What we all agreed was how wonderful it was to be in the company of the artist (photographed with Steve), Marina (the petite woman in the middle of the second photo) and fellow Spoletini who came to see new art and old friends.

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Cioccolato, Chocolate, Delicious...

We boarded an early train and headed to Perugia for Italy's largest chocolate festival, EuroChocolate.  I don't know how a day can begin better than with a rich cup of liquid chocolate bars... oh yes I can, an entire day of chocolate.

€5 bought us a chococard, a small pleasure insuring card that we took to nine different booths to receive "gadgets".  A gadget varied between booths from a simple, albeit sumptuous, Lindt truffle to a large bar of decadence that was molded into a map of Perugia's historic center.

There is no way to explain this luscious, delectable, heavenly, divine day of gastronomic rewards and historic explorations.  Truly unforgettable.

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Sights and tastes of Perugia...

A quick lesson about Italy.  There are 20 regions here and we are living in Umbria, whose capital is Perugia.  A true ancient city, first mentioned, in writing, in 310 BC.  Its incredible history is felt in each street and piazza. 

In 1540, Perugia was the last free city in Italy and was finally defeated in what is known as the Salt War. As a sign of the renewed papal dominion,
Farnese Pope Paul III commissioned an imposing fortress be built.  Steve and I delighted in meandering through the labyrinth that remains all these years later.  The niches of the Rocca were filled with displays of flavors of Italy.  We were able to learn all about the breads of Italy while tasting the differences. Yum!

Lunch was at Gus, dining on porchetta: a savory, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast where the body of the pig is gutted, deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin.  It is then rolled, spitted, and roasted. Porchetta has been selected by the Italian government as one of a list of traditional Italian foods held to have cultural relevance and one that Steve seems to enjoy eating.

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