Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Last Brother

Children are inclined by their age and Nature to assume that whatever is, is normal and whatever else they observe is not normal. It is only by growing up and hopefully maturing that they begin to learn otherwise. For me life as a child was a life of privilege where money not only didn't exist but my childhood was also a place where costly things happened as if by magic. We lived well, we traveled, we stayed in hotels and flew in airplanes when flight was rare and a privilege. In Italy I lived in a castle with servants and in England I learned manners ( say please and thank you no matter how low their social standing) and always we ate well, with our mouths closed using the proper cutlery.  I dare say that long before my mother died I was destined to take off on my own and tackle life by getting a job and earning my own way and turning my back on a world that even now, 50 years later seems embarrassingly anachronistic and out of place.  My belief that everyone deserves healthcare and poverty isn't a moral failing stems no doubt from seeing peasants live close to nature with bare bulbs, no homey luxuries and only bare light bulbs, cold running water and an outhouse to shit in. 

The kitchen in the sharecropper farm of San Pietro owned by my sister hasn't changed much since the last sharecropper left to move to the city half a century ago. It was a hard life farming my family's land for sixty percent of the product. My family got the other forty percent for the privilege of ownership, no sweat equity required. So when Americans talk about "hard work" this is what I think about, not the difficulty of investing the family wealth.

But one thing everyone had was astonishing food. Those old peasants knew how to grow crops, slaughter animals and preserve meats. We ate food with them and the memories of those harvest feasts and winter fireside snacks have not gone away.
My brother-in-law lived like this before he married my sister, far above his station to widespread disapproval.  50 years later they still live happily together and their sons continue the work in the fields. But he is the one still in charge at age 71 of raising the cows that will one day become beef.
I was never cut out for this life, as a half breed product of English boarding schools and summer vacations at our country estate in Umbria...there's that snobby voice of privilege again. I prefer even today to go to see the brothers in Orvieto and buy the products of others' labor.
Erminio's brother has retired and after 51 years running the shop at Via del Duomo 11 in Orvieto Erminio is pinning his hopes on his daughter taking over one day, maybe soon. 
Soft spoken and quiet he offers tastes of this and that, packaging cheese in vacuum sealed bags for flights home to the US. You can't import meat through US customs but you can bring cheese. Lucky us at least for that. 

Seasoned and fresh, milk from sheep or cows, aged in ash, wine or with truffles or without...the choices go on. For local consumption there is meat from wild boars hunted locally:
I discovered only a few years ago how delicious lard is when spread on a slice of bread:

Or packaged sauces and spices and pastas which come for Italian nights in our Keys home on a canal:
Spending three hundred bucks here, one night of overtime at work, is easy, a reminder of privilege, a support for a small local business, never franchised never sold out over half a century of being here.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Italian Vineyard in Black And White

I miss my dog, very  much and even though he is secure and well looked after all I can think is how much Rusty would love this Umbrian countryside. On a vineyard tour with some raucous know-it-all South Africans I got fed up listening to them argue with our guide so I looked around and thought: I don't get to photograph scenery like this in the Keys. Let's have a go. We walked, checked out the cave, walked some more and I tried to make it look like a movie, dramatic shading, strong contrasts and fun. I enjoyed myself tuning out the poseurs and taking the pictures. I hope you do too.

And then we had a participatory cooking demonstration at Decugnano dei Barbi vineyard.

Watched over by God knows Who:

Friday, July 21, 2017

Italian Food, in Italy

When foreigners speak of Italian food it's a plate of pasta, likely with tomato sauce that comes to mind. With reason, in Italy this is the first course:
Italian food is obviously more than pasta but relies always on one thing, which is fresh flavor. 

A family grill over a wood fire consists of meat, olive oil and salt. The truffle toast in the background is made of truffles and olive oil with a little parsley. 

Lard and wild boar sausages, more delicious than you might imagine:

In Umbria food is made up of meat, more meat, preserved meat, fungus including truffles which are very fashionable right now, and everything needs to be fresh and local. Fast food, preservatives and chain franchises are anathema. You take a little wine with lunch to help digestion and finish with the inevitable coffee:
Stopping off for lunch we watched five police officers at a neighboring table order up lunch...mixed cold cut platter to share followed by pasta choices, main meat course with vegetable, salad and fruit washed down with a liter of red wine and several bottles of mineral water. Then coffees all round. We imagined our police chief spotting his officers on such a lunch break...
My sisters and brother-in-law shooting the breeze after our extended grilled picnic.  They would no sooner eat canned food or Chinese food than they would eat horse manure. Indeed one of the frustrations I have with Italians is how unadventurous they are when it comes to food. Home made caprese salad with local fresh mozzarella and tomatoes from the garden. 
When I was growing up in Italy meals ended with fresh fruit, fruit that smelled like fruit, that had fresh crisp sweet consistency, that often ended up pealed to satisfy the Italian hypochondria a bout omnipresent germs. Nowadays Italians eat delicious sweet desserts full of cream and sugar and cake. 
Oh dear.
 Italians eat well and they eat a lot but they eat healthy, hypochondria aside, and they love flavor and texture and freshness. Less is more.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Gubbio, An Italian Hill Town

Gubbio lies in the foothills of northern Umbria overlooking the main river Tiber valley below.  They didn't know it when they built it but hundreds of years later photographers would be thanking them for their design and style.

Moto Guzzi's answer to the scooter craze of the 1960s, called the Galletto (little rooster) 200cc with two identical wheels quickly detached to enable the spare wheel to fit both ends. 

People say you don't see many Vespas on the streets of Italy. I say rubbish, you just have to look among lower cost non premium scooters in daily use. 

Our hotel, and very comfortable in the middle of the old town:

Palazzo dei Consoli - old city hall.

Looking south down the Tiber Valley: