Our finale with Laurie & Norma...

Some people pass through our lives leaving barely a mark while some, so unique and truly extraordinary, stay in your hearts forever.  Our hosts, Laurie and Norma are two such people.

The doors they opened for us made this adventure so much richer.  Their generosity, hospitality and all around funness made our year exceed any expectations we may have had and our last night in town wasn't any different.  We were treated to dinner at the new 9Cento- a restaurant, coffee shop and wine bar, just steps from our apartment.  The owner, Andrea Luzzi, was entertaining and wonderful and it was the perfect spot with the perfect company to end our year here.  What a night!

It is with the heaviest of hearts we leave this amazing couple who have become our Spoleto family...
"How lucky we are to have known someone
who was so hard to say goodbye to."

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An introduction to some special Spoletini...
We left this morning to say our final "ciao" to the friends we've met here. There are so many amazing people who have impacted our sojourn in a way we never would have expected.  Here is just a small sampling...
We had a wonderful meeting with our friend from the City, Gilberto, and Mayor Benedetti who presented us with a spectacular book about art in Spoleto.  We will all meet both of them again in Charleston for the Spoleto Festival USA 2012.  We left feeling appreciated for what we did as volunteers and I found myself crying as the Mayor spoke of us with such kind words.
The note, included with the gift, said, "To thank you for what you did for us.  See you soon."  How cool is that!
Sandro is one of those guys that we saw everywhere.  He was always so kind and truly a major part of this town. We will miss his warm greetings!
Cinzia and Massimo are two City employees who were always there for us.  They were helpful and great fun.
Giam Piero has appeared in our blog before.  He is an old fashion shoe cobbler, whose shop is steps from our apartment.  Not a day went by without a smile and a buon giorno from him.  It was part of our routine.
Francesca is a wild, wonderful, fun American who has lived in Spoleto for years.  She embraces everyone (people and kittens) and makes them feel at home.  She knows how to live la dolce vita with a style all her own.
And while it was an emotional day, it was a great day.  I wanted everyone to know we left by saying goodbye.  I didn't want anyone to say, "Hmm, whatever happened to Steve and Denise."

Don’t cry because it’s over. 
Smile because it happened.

New friends as our year ends...

On Friday, while strolling a side street in town, a woman on a bicycle stopped us and introduced herself.  Betty and her husband, Bob are two Americans who have lived in Spoleto for two years and were were told by our friend, Francesca, "You really should meet Denise and Steve".

We knew of this very interesting couple and never had the chance to meet...until the week before our year was coming to an end.  How ironic.  The story of their life was mesmerizing...Peace Corps adventures, Africa, Croatia and now Spoleto.

Tonight we drank Prosecco (a dry, sparkling Italian wine) on their 400 year old terrace overlooking the mottled, ancient roof tops.  After hours and a sunset we said our goodbyes but we will meet again in California.  Bob's mom lives just a few miles from us and we promised to pick them up at the airport when they come for a visit in January.  It is so fun to know it isn't goodbye but really just ciao for now!

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It was a rather interesting night.  We meandered the streets of Spoleto and as we did, we kept bumping into friends and opportunities to say goodbye.

We dined at a restaurant we had spent the year meaning to visit and then met friends, Matteo and Silvia, for an arrivederci drink.  Silvia was my boss from the children's program at the library.  We have thoroughly enjoyed our time with this amazing couple and tonight's parting was more emotional than either Steve or I had anticipated.

As we headed home, Spoleto seemed extra majestic and we couldn't help but express our sadness at leaving.  What an incredible year it has been!

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My YELLOW Car...

When we picked up my car from its long sea journey to Italy, the shipping agent made a comment about its bright yellow color.   She said, "You won't find many cars that color because you have to pay extra for it."  It is true, we have seen only a handful of yellow cars and I chose that specific shade because of its ability to stand out and its cheeriness.

Steve is reading the book, Italian Neighbours by Tim Parks, a travelogue about life in Italy and one that has some interesting insight into la dolce vita.  Steve had to read out loud, some snippets that shed light on our life here with the one discussing car colors evoking a chuckle (Englishman Mr. Parks drives a bright orange VW Dasher). 

...It was possible we looked out of sorts.  And of course we were aware by now that Italians don't drive bright orange cars (or bright yellow or green cars for that matter) and that the owners of such cars are looked upon with a certain amount of condescension and immediately understood to be Germans, an epithet more or less synonymous with bad taste.

I don't fully agree with his synopsis on the style of Germans because we know some pretty tasteful ones.  However, now I do feel a tad bit conscious of my car.  It's funny how one paragraph can change one's view of one's bright vehicle.

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Lunch followed by torrential rains- FUN...

Our lunch with Norma and Laurie was enriched by Angela and Norman, our British neighbors.  One of the things we will miss, when we leave, is 3+ hour meals, especially those all'aperto with engaging company.  Today was no exception.

The afternoon concluded with hours of thunder, lightning and rain.  We watched the intense storm from the coziness of our apartment, much like we did the first time we stayed here four years ago.

È raccogliendosi a tavola che gli amici
apprezzano la gioia di stare insieme.

Italian to English Translation:
It is around the table that friends
understand best the warmth of being together.

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And the irony is we're leaving...

As we begin our last week in Italy, we are meeting and/or being introduced to even more interesting and exciting people.  Steve said that Spoleto is like una cipolla, an onion, with so many layers and as we peel off those layers it gets more engaging and surprisingly difficult to leave.

Mike and Daniela escorted us to dinner in the little frazione of Protte.  There we met Sophie, a landscape architect and Jeffrey, an artist and writer.  At
Ristorante Pizzeria Il Gatto e La Volpe we heard each others histories, delighted in their stories of years in Spoleto while Steve and I silently yearned for more time with all of our new friends as well as those we've grown close to this very brief year.

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Saying Auf Wiedersehen...

We are spending this last week saying our goodbyes and just delighting in making our last unforgettable memories before leaving Spoleto next Saturday.

Yesterday we said "Auf Wiedersehen" to our German friend Gundula and her two very sweet daughters, Michka and Nasrin.  We picnicked in our local chestnut tree shaded park.  We have made some pretty wonderful memories with this family and saying goodbye keeps proving harder than we anticipated.

"How lucky I am to have known someone
who was so hard to say goodbye to."

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Brunch with writer Michael Gregorio...

The award winning writer Michael Gregorio is actually a delightfully charming husband and wife team- Michael Jacob and Daniela de Gregorio.  Having been introduced to Mike at the local antique market, and because of my love of the written word, I sent him an e-mail and invited them for brunch.  We spent the morning sharing our stories. 

I love theirs.  Mike from Liverpool, and Daniela a Spoletina, met while at Oxford, he having taught her English. They settled in Spoleto, and after each trying to write novels separately, it was only after they joined together that they attained success with their book Critique of Criminal Reason

It was fascinating to hear about their lives and how they got to this point...their very first brunch, and on our terrace.  We will be able to know more about their writing because we were given a copy of their third novel, A Visible Darkness.  How fun it will be reading something written by someone we now know. 

Spoleto is one of those towns that seems to bring out the kindness in people.  We have been so fortunate to meet such a diverse group of interesting individuals.  I have written about "pinch me" moments and I would say that today, brunching on our sun-filled terrace with Mike and Daniela, is certainly one of those moments!

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Fossil forest, a picnic & sunflowers...

Steve wanted to explore somewhere new, so we headed to Southern Umbria and the Dunarobba Fossil Forest.  The first photo is what the guidebook promised, the second is what we found.

This forest was discovered in the 1970s, with excavations still happening currently.  As you can see by the 'tents' they are trying to preserve what they've uncovered thus far.  Fossil wood is the "preserved remains from the remote past" or fossil record. Over time the wood is the part of a plant that is best preserved (and most easily found). Fossil wood may or may not be petrified.

All the trees here belong to a family of Sequoia which grew more than one million years ago on the shore of a huge lake that is no longer here. The uniqueness of this forest is that the trees lay in vertical position and not horizontally as is the case for other fossil forests. This would confirm the theory that a flood could have overwhelmed the forest preserving it in the shape we admire today. The fossils have large dimensions: 4' in diameter and between 15' and 30' high. 

It was an interesting explore followed by a picnic overlooking a spectacular valley.  While meandering through the Umbrian countryside, we found a field of rogue sunflowers.  This rare sighting of still vibrant flowers made us stop and pick a few.  Our drive home was through the most exciting summer storm of hail, lightening and thunder!  A remarkable end to a wondrous day.

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Surprisingly beautiful fields of Tobacco...

The spectacular fields of sunflowers have given way to an almost beautiful crop, tobacco.  The hues of greens and yellows have washed over the barren landscape to paint pleasing scenes.

The triangle between Perugia, Foligno and Spoleto is largely planted with tobacco, and is Italy's primary flue-cured (cigarette tobacco) production region.

Interestingly, within the world tobacco sector, Italy holds the following positions:
• First European country for tobacco production before processing
• Second European country for land used for tobacco growing, after Greece
• First European country for the export of unprocessed and processed tobacco
• Fifth country in the world for the export of unprocessed and processed tobacco
• Sixth provider in the world of cigarette tobacco for the USA.

It is unfortunate that such a colorful, cheery crop is the reason for so many deaths and diseases and yet such an economic benefit for Umbria.  Hmm.

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Goodbyes and good friends...

Our Sunday afternoon passed delightfully on the shore of the river at Il Parco del Clitunno Ristorante"an oasis where nature and local flavors blend together in a happy marriage to make you fully appreciate the taste of the traditional cuisine of the Umbria Valley."

Norma and Laurie gathered a small sampling of the same interesting people with whom we spent Christmas and various other events:  Alessandro, the engaging Italian; Eve, our fun olive picking connection; and Sarah, the Irish spark we see all over town.

It was an enchanting location to say our "ciao for now".

"Don't be dismayed at good-byes.
A farewell is necessary before we can meet again
and meeting again, after moments or a lifetime,
is certain for those who are friends."

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Hobo livin'...

As we prepare to leave Italy, we have been asked, "What's next?"  Steve and I have joked that we are going to become hoboes.
  • ho·bo [hoh-boh] noun. One who wanders from place to place without a permanent home.
According to the list "Notable People who have Hoboed" on answers.com we would be in fine company:  Jack Dempsey, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, Art Linkletter, James Michener, George Orwell, and John Steinbeck, just to name a few.

While our future is rather uncertain we look forward to wandering aimlessly and getting a little lost along the way.

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Tragedy at the Reno Air Show...

This morning, I awoke to read that an airplane had crashed into the grandstands at the Reno Air Races.  Just a year ago, Steve attended this same event with my brother, Chuck.  This is an annual race that Chuck tries to go to every year and it was a dream for Steve to be there before coming to Italy.

I found out, after hours of waiting, my brother wasn't at the race Friday afternoon.  As more details surface and the death toll climbs, I become more thankful for his safety and more saddened by the terrible tragedy.

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Spoleto's UNESCO Day...
This year, Spoleto was honored with a UNESCO World Heritage Designation and with it, the opportunity to share the town with travel professionals.  Today we joined 42 tour operators,  from all over the world.  They were here to learn what Spoleto can offer their customers and we were there to help and share our love of this unique place. 
Our first stop was a tour of La Rocca, built by Cardinal Albornoz in the 14th century.  It was the main stronghold, in the system of fortifications built by Pope Innocent VI, to strengthen and showcase  the military authority of the Church in the territories of central Italy.  This was our first time exploring its interior which is now a cultural and art center.
In 1817 the fortress was transformed first into a penal settlement and, after the unification of Italy, a high security prison.  It was a prison until 1982.
"It's all over" is graffiti left behind by an inmate.
The Basilica of San Salvatore received the UNESCO designation.   Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.  For me,  San Salvatore is one of the places that feeds my soul.  There is no way to express the magicalness of this ancient Longobard church.  Each time I enter, I am engulfed in peacefulness. 
Our next stop was in the neighboring town of Campello Sul Clitunno and its UNESCO site, Tempietto del Clitunno best described by -Pliny the Younger in 108 AD.. “Have you not yet seen the source of the Clitunno (river)? If not – and I think not or else you would have spoken to me of it – go see it. I only just saw it recently and regret having done so only so late. There, a small hill all covered and shaded by magnificent cypress trees, and at its feet a collection of uneven springs spilling here and there, feeding a small pond so pure and crystalline that you can see each coin that has been thrown in and every shiny stone . . Close by an ancient and venerated temple. And inside, the god of the same name, Clitunno, wrapped in the robes that adorn him.”
In typical Italian hospitality, lunch was an incredible gastronomic feast and just when we thought we were done, we were asked to move indoors for the remaining courses. 

This was the first time we had dined at Ristorante Albergo "Le Casaline" and we were sad we had discovered it so late in our stay.  The view, food and service were exceptional.

The last stop on our very full day was The Palazzo Collicola which houses the Galleria Comunale d‘Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. While Modern Art isn't necessarily my favorite, there is always something to discover and I did like these masks by Luigi Ontani.
Maybe with a little more introspection, we would have understood Airplane by Tony Cragg.  At the end of the 1980s, he  was the sculptor on every curator's wishlist.  Cragg saw the ideal artist as an alchemist whose job it was to imbue  modern materials with poetic resonance – to give plastic some interesting cultural baggage.  Hmmm, something to think about.
So, this is a Picasso!  Wild right? This is a costume from La Parade (1917) "What exactly was La Parade?  It is difficult even to label it: ballet or play? It was a surrealist play written by the surrealist poet Jean Cocteau, with modern music by Erik Satie, and the costumes and stage designs by Picasso, themselves a mixture of symbolism and cubism."  Who knew?
We were invited along, on this incredible day, to give our views of Spoleto from a tourist's perspective.  It was a huge honor for me to speak for our adopted home.  My speech began,  "We are frequently asked, 'Why Spoleto?'  The questioner is never quite prepared for the extensive answer that follows.  Spoleto is a town that delights and nourishes..." 
The day was filled with many firsts for us and many wonderful introductions.  The evening ended with wine and mingling.  It was an incredible opportunity for us and a perfect way to begin the end of our year in Spoleto.

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