Sunday, July 31, 2011

Friends, Romans, Countrymen.

Fulvia owns and runs Casa Romana at Via Dei Mille 41 in Rome. She speaks excellent English and made our three nights at her place near the main train station very easy and pleasant.

She loves Rome and though she has lived in New York and has a soft spot for Bombay (!) she comes home to the Eternal City. She is a Roman through and through and likes to share her city with we strangers.

Next we meet Therese who we last met in my garden on Ramrod Key planting assiduously and making sure my greenery looked it's best. I need her back.

We picked her up at Pisa airport in Tuscany and drove her to Siena where she and my wife met two days catching up.

Therese started her Italian sojurn sharing lunch on the road, a place found at random, roadside and quite up to snuff as are most found eateries in Italy.

These people in the picture below are Giovanni's parents 86 and 81 years of age, friends of my long dead mother, still able to get about on their own and they drive up to their country home for the hot summer months.

Mellito is the eldest of three brothers and sole survivor ironically enough, a former cardiologist, a car enthusiast and the last repository of the distant memories of my grandfather...

...and my mother's

...daily lives in the village. She's the seated one gesturing vivaciously at a family picnic in the 1960's. She used to embarrass me at my prim English boarding school by being too Italian and loud and glamorous for the dull gray life I lived in-between her visits. I wish I could go back and change that.

Elisa reminds me of the queen of England and sometimes her bearing confirms perhaps that she and Elizabeth were separated at birth. After years of disapproving of my wastrel lifestyle she finally gave me the seal of her approval this trip thanks in large part to the steadying influence of my patient California wife keeping up with muttered translations from me and use of her knowledge of Spanish.

Rosella, Giovanni's cousin was once intended for me as a wife to unite the two largest families in town. It seems inconceivable that a homebody like her could have put up with a wanderer like me. I am not sure how she feels about her narrow escape but I am certain a great deal of misery was spared all concerned when I ran away, for reasons totally unrelated to her.

The paunchy middle aged man in the blue shirt was my childhood companion on these mountains, a wiry young country lad who was required by his stern father, the frail old man in the recliner, to look after the family's herd of sheep. I used to hang with him and we would climb trees, make slingshots and chase lizards to wile away the long summer days. Fausto's son has been out of work for a year with no prospects but as he waits for retirement in four years the shepherd turned builder has made his home energy self sufficient and he and his wife are cultivating their own food. my sons future is in our land not other people's promises he says.

Fausto and I still have a few things in common including our history, and a rather dim view of the future economic outlook.

My mother's first cousin still lives in her apartment in Terni, she didn't recognize me when I dropped in for a visit after thirty years away.

She isn't nearly as severe as she looks though she is rather prim and formal and was another of those in the chorus of my young life who disapproved of my juvenile lack of maturity and focus. She's over it now. The passing of time has that effect I've noticed.

Away from the home front, and the woods and trails of my old haunts we dropped in again on our favorite pottery makers in Deruta. When I told my wife I used to live forty minutes from some of the most famous pottery in Italy she had to check it out. She criss-crossed the town observing the designs and settled on the Marcucci family as her favorite.

Every visit we stop by and pick up something to add to our collection of daily use dishes. Marcucci is very keen to know that his designs are in use every day and not kept in display cases.

The old man is training the next generation to appreciate his passion for the particular clay mined in Deruta and fired into patterns that he selects from medieval texts and traditions. Made and painted by hand is their motto. This visit we got a traditional cruet holder and a scalloped dish that she will use for her famous appetizers.

Stefano and I never did see much of each other as kids but in later years we hung out a lot together and he among all the people I knew, loved to travel. He runs his own pest control company and sells his patented rat poisons across Europe.

He visited me in California and Florida seen here at the head of the "table" on my boat with myself and my then girlfriend presumably in Ft Myers. A few years ago!

From California we met Corda and Jack the artists who moved into our village 40 years ago leading what was to become decades later an avalanche of English speaking invaders who preferred the backwaters of Umbria to the better known villages of Chianti-shire in Tuscany.

It was these two who introduced me to their home in Santa Cruz and who unwittingly gave me a target to aim for when I decided to leave Europe permanently.

That was where I landed, student visa in hand, and where I married the first time and settled, much to my own surprise. They still live in the same house in Umbria (and Santa Cruz) after all these years. Not surprising really:

And me? I have changed a bit over the years. Now:

Aged two, my sisters tell me, in our father's garden in England:

Age 15, I have to confess I failed to recognize myself in this picture from the early 1970's in Italy about the time my mother died.

Years later in Santa Cruz after I took to the water to revolt against my land locked former life in Umbria.

It's a cliche but life passes in a hurry and making the most of each day has never seemed so important.

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JulyThirtyFirst #3

Thank you Gary for taking the pictures.

July ThirtyFirst #2

It's a long trip to Key West from Tennessee and Dad is in a hurry to start his family's favorite vacation. A reminder how important time off together has always been for the formerly middle classes. That would be us. My vacation is over and I'll be back tomorrow with many thanks to Gary for letting me upload his pictures and keeping Key West where it belonged during July- on Key West Diary.
cheers, Conchscooter.

Bagnoregio And Civita

It happens that people rave about a place and when one finally gets there it leaves one cold. Civita di Bagnoregio had that effect on us.

We arrived in the twin town of Bagnoregio and this sign banning dogs from the park didn't sit too well, "even if leashed." A harsh bunch I figured.

Civita has been around for 2500 years the archeologists tell us, apparently founded by Etruscans and built of the peculiar porous soft rock called "tufa" or tuff in English. Like this church in Bagnoregio.

We later discovered we could have driven the mile through the town but it was a pleasant enough walk to the bridge to Civita.

Across the valley I saw my ideal home, isolated with no neighbors.

At the end of our mile walk we came to to the start of the actual walk:

They call Civita the dying city not because of the cardiac arrest that one risks on this endless climb under the hot summer sun, but because the tufa on which the old city is built is crumbling. Indeed you will be sorry to hear the home of Saint Bonaventure (1274) has crumbled and fallen into the valley.

I found the outbound walk quite pleasant. Hot but pleasant...

Even though it was quite steep at the end...

...we found a way to overcome the heat.

It was rather fun sitting there drinking craft beers while watching the late arrivals stagger in under the main archway.

Civita is pretty enough if you like tufa which I don't very much as I find it rather dark and gloomy.

The town has all the right elements to look good, but it would only stand out in my view, if it wasn't located in the middle of a country packed with beautiful hill towns.

With just a dozen winter residents and a hundred or so summer residents, Civita's whole raison d'ĂȘtre is tourism.

It is not in any sense a properly lived in town for without us it would not exist at all. It used to be the seat of the diocese until the crumbling forced the Bishop out into neighboring Bagnoregio.

These eroding valleys will do for the city in the end if it can't be propped up and I doubt there is money enough to do that anymore even if there is the will.

We saw this trail bike parked at the old Bishop's residence and then we met it buzzing back across the bridge. This seems to be the way to go in the pedestrian city!

We had ice cream while we cooled off and waited for the shuttle bus back to the car. Glad we went, we feel no need to return, with apologies to guide book author Rick Steves who thinks this place is neater than sliced bread or canned beer.

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July ThirtyFirst #1

Photo by GarytheTourist. I will be back tomorrow - sez Conchscooter.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Orvieto is a well known stop on the tourist tour of Italian hill towns. However it is different from most as it it's on a level piece of ground making the old city flat and easy to walk compared to most.

The big rectangle is the Duomo, cathedral, which is the landmark in most of these cities. The approach road starts at the bottom of the hill in the industrial suburb below the old town and curls up the hill to the old streets at the top.

The city is built of tufa, or tuff, a porous dark brown rock easily cut into bricks.

Orvieto is known for it's white wine which old timers say has lost a lot of it's flavor since health laws prohibited the cellaring of of wine in the tufa caves under the city. Locals make a living as they can anyway.

This may be a historic city but laundry still needs to be done.

Historic cities, just like Key West have their drawbacks.

And their odd beauty even if scribbled upon.

And their obvious beauty.

Orvieto's name is derived from the Latin Urbs Vetus or 'ancient city' because it was old when the Romans showed up and it's strategic position on top of the vertical cliffs made it an important town in the Tiber Valley.

When Popes were forced to flee from Rome as they were from time to time, they might easily show up here to take refuge.

The cathedral when seen close up is made of an extraordinary collection of black and white stone. Pope Urban had it built to commemorate a miracle when a host, consecrated by a priest filled with doubt, started bleeding to prove it really was transformed per Catholic doctrine, into the body of Christ.

For those that know, not I, the cathedral is an exquisite work of art and is much admired. Orvieto is a well lived in city, full of life.

They sell all sorts of dust catchers, and I wanted to bring some of these home for gifts but I figured US Customs probably wouldn't be as amused as I was.

I stuck with the traditional sort of stuff I like to bring home, no meats because they are banned, but cheese will pass Customs inspection.

Emilio has been preserved meats and cheeses for years on the main drag of Orvieto. It is a stop we make every time we visit the city.

I of course lust after the meats I cannot take home.

Tipico really means traditional.

Emilio sells good stuff, not cheap, but he will vacuum pack any purchase for easy transport home.

Orvieto is stuck in my memory for the most curious of reasons. I remember coming to town one night with a group of friends to see a movie, any movie. That we happened upon la Cage Aux Folles dubbed into Italian as all foreign movies are, was pure happenstance. It is hard to stress the effect of that movie, known in English as the Bird Cage, on a group of homophobic young country lads. I still remember leaving the theater in a state of highly amused shock.

Tufa rock looks it's best at sunset I believe. The tower is a city landmark called La Torre Del Moro, the Moor's Tower, at the intersection of the two main streets.

While everyone was busy walking up and down the main street the lovely piazza in front of the astonishing cathedral was just about empty.

We skipped the main tourist spots, St Patrick's well and the like but we didn't miss the sunset.

The end of another glorious day in Umbria.

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