Game night with friends...

In December, Matteo and Silvia came for dinner and we played SCRABBLE®.  They told us about a fun game they had played with American friends called Sequence.  So when we went home in January, it was on our shopping list.

How can you not love a game with this description?
"With touches of canasta, rummy, and poker, this game could easily become a Friday-night favorite."  It's fun, it's challenging, it's exciting, it's Sequence. Play a card from your hand, place a chip on a corresponding space on the game board when you have five in a row, it's a Sequence. Learn to block your opponents - remove their chips. Watch out for the Jacks, they are wild. With a little strategy and luck, you'll be a winner.

After a delicious dinner, many rematches to be the winner and a great deal of wonderful conversation, our February ended in the company of delightful friends with really fun memories.

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Carnevale's 183rd year in Spoleto...

I always find history interesting.  In the same year that Webster's Dictionary and the Democratic party were formed in America (1828), Spoleto celebrated Carnevale for the first time.  Wild thought.

Today, the various districts of Spoleto contributed to the general Carnival merry-making  with allegorical floats, masked groups and bands. What a riotous group of fun and craziness.  It progressed from family friendly to irreverant over the course of the afternoon.  I thought I'd let the photos tell the tale.  Enjoy!  We certainly did.

Carnival is a butterfly of winter whose last real flight of Mardi Gras
forever ends his glory. Another season is the season of another butterfly,
and the tattered,scattered, fragments
of rainbow wings are in turn the record of his day.

-Perry Young

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It takes five to Tango...

Nights begin late in Italy.  At 9:15 PM we were seated at the Teatro Caio Melisso, an amazing opera house in the heart of Spoleto's historic center. The theater has undergone several transformations and name changes since being built around 1667. 

Named after a Spoletino writer, it re-opened in 1880 as a 350-seat, 3 levels of boxes plus a gallery, opera house.  We have wanted to see a production here since arriving almost five months ago.  Voilà!  Beltango appears.

brings together five incredibly talented Serbian artists Aleksandar Nikolić – bandoneón (looks like an accordion but isn't); Ivana Nikolić – piano and vocal; Jovan Bogosavljević – violin; Bogdan Pejić – guitar; and Ljubinko Lazić - contrabass. They have performed on the stages of the greatest tango festivals in the world and are the only tango orchestra from Europe invited to perform at the prestigious "World Tango Festival" in Bueno Aires.

For almost two hours we danced in our seats.  We were blown away by their talent and energy.  Steve and I both agreed that we need to take tango lessons.  When Aleksander and Ivana danced, the temperature in the theater shot way up.  They were HOT.

At one point, an Italian singer joined the group and several members of the audience broke out in song and sang along.  It was incredible to hear this intimate venue fill with voices surrounding us.  Such a truly unforgettable night of music.  We were thoroughly enchanted!

"To be a great lead, do not love the woman you dance with;
rather, listen to the music and love it!
Beautiful tango is a process of transference
- your love for the music will be transferred to the follower,
and she will be enchanted." -John Vaina

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Snow! Wasn't it just Spring?

We awoke to everything being covered in a pristine layer of freshly fallen snow.  The peacefulness of our walk around the Rocca was only interrupted by the sound of songbirds. 

Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again.
~Bill Morgan, Jr.

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Ogres and heroes...story time!

I heard the singsong voices of the Italian children long before I came upon them on the way to the library.  I raced passed in order to greet them as they arrived for story time.

I wrote about this unique experience in December.  On quite a few occasions, I was there as a helper for the children's librarian, Clara.  Today, it was a darling group of four year olds there to learn about the biblioteca and hear the retelling and then reenact the tale of Tom Thumb.  Warja Lavater created Le Petit Poucet using only symbols on over 12 feet of accordion folded paper.  Her work continues to be the most unique, imaginative children's book I've seen.  It delighted us all.

Some day you will be old enough
to start reading fairy tales again.
-C.S. Lewis

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The foods of an Umbrian Carnevale...

While it doesn't begin until Sunday, excitement is growing for Carnevale- the big party that leads up to Lent. Carnevale is one of Italy's biggest festivals and events often last for two to three weeks before the actual carnival day- Martedì Grasso.  Fat Tuesday marks the end of the merriment and ironically, this year it is also The Day of the Woman (more about that soon)...hmmm.

After our grocery shopping day, we're probably going to be experiencing some Lunedi Grasso, Giovedi Grasso and Mercoledì Grasso as well.  During the carnival in Umbria, desserts are a major focus. The most common are the frittelle, the frappe and castagnole. The cicerchiata is a traditional Umbrian sweet made with small balls of pasta sunk in orange honey and garnished with candies and sugared almonds.  While I can't properly pronounce most of the traditional desserts here, I plan to sample each and everyone of them.

A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale
- Anything goes at carnival.

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Art Lesson: Sol LeWitt

We were first introduced to artist Sol LeWitt when we were looking for an apartment to rent for our year in Spoleto.  La Torre dell'Artista was the first house we found.  It's location did not fit our criteria but its history was rich and interesting.  It is where Sol LeWitt settled after leaving America in 1980, and is nestled high above town in the sacred woods where we so love to meander.

Solomon "Sol" LeWitt (September 9, 1928 -April 8, 2007) was an American artist linked to various movements, including Conceptual art and Minimalism. LeWitt came to fame in the late 1960s with his wall drawings and "structures" (a term he preferred instead of "sculptures") but was prolific in a wide range of media including drawing, printmaking, and painting. He has been the subject of hundreds of solo exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world since 1965.

Our second introduction came in Charleston when Lucinda Child's Dance was performed on a black and white film backdrop by this diverse artist.

In Spoleto, his works are in the art museum and one of the hotels.  One evening, we dined with an art historian, Cecelia Metelli, who co-wrote Sol LeWitt:  Artist's Books
(LeWitt is closely identified with the book as an art form).  Did I ever mention what a small town Spoleto is?

In addition, our friend, Francesca's new apartment is directly above Sol LeWitt's in town art studio.

The final very cool LeWitt connection occurred last night.  Our "neighbors" are a family from Amsterdam.  Laurie and Norma introduced us and we invited them over for aperitivi for their last night in town.  Chris and Sarah are film makers and are in Spoleto to make a full length film about this famous artist.  The Netherlands have loved LeWitt since his beginnings and he is prominently shown there.

It intrigues me how one man, no longer with us, can unite so many people in a little Umbrian town. 

Every generation renews itself in its own way;
there's always a reaction against whatever is standard.
-Sol LeWitt

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A presto to our amici...

Breakfast, prepared by a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef, was simple yet extremely delicious.  After almost five months in Italy, I have now fallen in love with pancetta. Italian pancetta is salt cured pork belly, typically seasoned with such spices as nutmeg, pepper, fennel, dried ground hot peppers and garlic, then dried for at least three months.  Tom added it to the most delectable scrambled eggs.  Combined with roasted potatoes... la colazione è brava!

Our guests left for Rome today.  It was a great visit.  Life returns to our version of normalcy with coffee dates, aperitivi guests and some volunteering at the library.

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It's Tuesday?  We must be in Trevi.
            For Chris & Tom's last day in Umbria...

Chris and Tom have returned from their northern Italian exploration and we all decide to spend the day in Trevi, an ancient hillside town one can't help but see, with its striking architecture perched high above the Vale di Spoleto.
Standing in the olive trees beneath a town from Roman times, our day was pretty amazing.  This was our first foray into Trevi and we were not disappointed.
The view from the 16th century Villa Fabri.
Ristorante "Osteria la Vecchia Posta" served a sumptuous lunch.  I had baked pecorino cheese with honey that was exceptional.  Wonderful service and something extra, too.  Tom, being fresh out of his Culinary school externship, was given a tour of the kitchen and directions on how to make my yummy cheese dish.
Nice to see where my lunch came from!  Nothing quite says "Umbrian countryside" like sheep being herded through the olive groves.  Each day seems to present something new at which to marvel.  "Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro."                   

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Moving to an apartment in Italy...

In December, my friend, Francesca and I struggled through the streets of Spoleto carrying her free kitchen sink... really.  I wish I would have captured that on film.  She had just signed a 4 1/2 year lease that was for an unfurnished apartment.

In Italy, an unfurnished apartment not only has no furniture but also no cabinets, no kitchen, no heater, no light fixtures - in short, it is EMPTY and tends to be rather less than what we would consider "unfurnished" in the United States.

Francesca has worked hard to get her apartment together and we were happy to help.  It is a beautiful space for us to visit and today was a fun way to spend a Monday.

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So in love with Spoleto...

When our days have no plans, we tend to wander aimlessly around the hills above our town.  It is a continuous cause for delight.  As the seasons change and the environment evolves, we are constantly in awe of the beauty.  It's Springtime in Spoleto.

It's easy to understand why the most beautiful poems
about England in the spring
were written
by poets living in Italy at the time.

-Philip Dunne

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Chris & Tom at Carnivale...Venezia

The thought of milling about with people in masks does not appeal to Steve- at all.  But our friends, Chris and Tom are in Venice right now and are delighting in the uniqueness of it all.

Carnival started as a time for celebration and expression throughout the classes, as wearing masks hid any form of identity between social classes. During the 1970s, the Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of their efforts. Today, approximately 30,000 visitors come to Venice each day for Carnivals.

There is something wonderful
about being anonymous and silly!!
-Chris Richey

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Friday night at Fonti del Clitunno...

When describing Italy, I tend to be rather redundant and have been accused of over using the word:  FUN. 

Main Entry:  fun  
Part of Speech:  adjective  
Definition:  good, happy  
Synonyms:  amusing, boisterous, convivial, diverting, enjoyable, entertaining, lively, merry, pleasant, witty 

Well, our dinner out was fun.  Our friend Eve was visiting from England.  There were seven of us and we arrived at 8 PM and dined until almost midnight.  The evening can be described using all the synonyms. 

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Lost in Umbria...

me·an·der[mee-an-der]: -verbto wander aimlessly; ramble: Steve and Denise meandered through the Umbrian countryside.

Our path took us to the Castello di Campello Alto which is interesting for its history,  dating back to Rovero di Champeaux, the Burgundian knight who wanted to build it in 9th – 10th centuries. Through a grand gateway, we meandered its medieval walled core, gazing at its "time frozen still" architecture and complete desolate cobblestone streets.

We then headed into the interior of the forests surrounding Spoleto.  Each turn afforded us different, equally stunning in their harshness, winter views.  We were snowed upon and felt lost but the sights were amazing and it was an excellent 'road less taken'.

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Broken bones and bureaucracy...

When I first visited with the orthopedist, he frightened me.  The wrist bone that was broken was disconnected.  He told me that if the bone did not heal properly over the next week, I would require a pin to attach the floating bone.  YIKES.  While Italian health care is ranked second in the world, I wasn't too eager to have surgery here.

In addition to having a follow up appointment today, we also went to the hospital to pay for my emergency room visit, all x-rays, my cast and the first orthopedist appointment.  The line was very similar to the post office, take a number and watch the board.  Efficient and, just to reiterate, everyone was very kind.

After we presented the paperwork for the insurance, the Polizia and the Assitalia agent required us to purchase for our Permesso, the patient Credit Director of the hospital (after much discussion and phone calls) informed us that we had purchased the wrong insurance for our type of Visa.

Frustration ensued but to make a very long story less boring, we were required to pay €88.33 ($119.32) for all medical procedures including my visit today.  Which by the way was a happy ending.  My wrist appears to be healing quite well.  The doctor thought the cast was too loose so I've been re-wrapped and sent off until March 10th when I should be cast-free, after of course, getting in the same lines and fighting the same bureaucracy.  Except now we're a little wiser.

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