Saturday, October 27, 2012

.... Embrace

In September, at a local farmers market, I met a group of people who would play an important part in helping me deal with having no water the last two weeks I was in Italy.  We’d exchanged contact info, and had kept in touch since the market.

About a week before I left Italy, I was traveling to find water, especially hot water for a shower, but couldn’t figure out how I was going to get home from the train station in Umbertide.  While on the computer, I was contacted via Skype by one of the market folks, and he offered to pick me up at the station after learning of my situation at the apartment.

I arrived at the group’s commune-type farm around dusk.  I could barely see the large stone house in the twilight, but was greeted by most of the seven people who lived in that particular house (another three-member family lived in a smaller stone house down the hill).

Zigo - the male goat

Supper was prepared by Alessandro, the young man who offered me the lift.  He speaks great English because he lived in England for a year working as a chef.  He prepared a great supper of spaghetti with homemade sauce made from vegetables grown on the farm.  It was thrilling to sit around the table with real Italians, in their home, and have dinner.  The conversation roared around me – I’ve noticed Italians often seem to talk at once.  I understood little, but enjoyed the lively discussions and delicious meal.

Zigo's Harem

Built-in Back Scratcher

The next morning I woke up early and watched from my bedroom window as the men-folk fed the chickens, ducks, geese and goats across the farmyard.   

I visited the pigs before lunch and was thrilled to see the sow, Michelle, with her newborn piglets – a mass of pink energy as they nosed through the hay and worried their mother for their next meal.

We had lunch at the smaller casa – penne pasta with a homemade sauce that included carrots, peas, pancetta, onions, garlic and (of course) tomatoes.  Fresh bread.  A green salad with fabulous dressing.  There were 13 people around the table (some additional friends had come for a visit after dinner the night before).

Fabbio, pigs, Alessandro and Karin

I believe that these kind and hospitable people primarily live on what they produce from their animals and garden – either for their own consumption or from market sales.  I had purchased some of their fresh and aged goat cheese at the market.  One lady sews children’s clothing  - unique and clever designs of her own creation.

I also stayed at their farm the night before I left the area to travel to Perugia for the Chocolate Festival.  Alessandro had offered to help me in any way that I needed, and unfortunately I had to call on him to take me to the train station.  (My normal “chauffeur” had to return to Morocco because his mother-in-law was gravely ill.)

(R to L)  Lucia, Nunziella, Antonio, Alessandro and me!

I love these people for taking me in during a time of need.  They have a special place in my heart and taught me about an aspect of hospitality that is missing in my own life – that of welcoming the stranger in my gates - an attitude to embraceTheir life is simple, but they happily shared what they had.  Thank you, Alessandro, Nunziella, Fabbio, Sabrina, Karin, Lucia, Lucca, Elisa, little Pedro and little Mila.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

.......Mourn and a Time to Dance

Ay Yi Yi – NO WATER!!

Needless to say after a day or two of living like a cavewoman in some respects, I decided to take off again. I'm pretty low maintenance, but I really like hot water - and that presumes I have water!!  God definitely used this situation to get me off the mountain and out into other places of Italy. Destination: Amalfi Coast.

If you’ve ever been there you know how very beautiful it is.  For those of you who saw the Hollywood version of Under the Tuscan Sun – it was the Amalfi Coast that the lady and her new Italian boyfriend visited at one point in the movie.  I remember them touring around on a scooter, looking very Italian and exceptionally happy.

Scene from "Under the Tuscan Sun"

The Amalfi Coast is certainly stunning in its beauty ………. and terrifying in its traffic.  I’m glad I wasn’t driving.  Being a passenger was thrilling enough for me – and I was there in the tail of the tourist season. I can’t imagine it in the middle of the summer, when scores of giant tour buses hog the (only) narrow curving road and often have to stop, back up, and go again in order to make it around a sharp bend.

I sat at a beach bar with WiFi in Vietri sul Mare (near Salerno)  and booked an evening at Mamma Rosa B&B, in a hamlet above Positano. Somehow I got there and an older lady hanging over her balcony immediately called my hosts to inform them of my arrival.  You see there are 227 steps up to Mamma Rosa’s and some direction is needed from the street ………. but every step is WORTH IT! 

View from my balcony at Mamma Rosa's

Angelo and Mamma Rosa

Even better, Angelo told me that his cousin, Salvatore, had a restaurant on the square, within walking distance.  He assured me of a great meal, and offered to call so that I’d have a good table.  I am so thankful I went to Il Ritrovo that night.  When Salvatore realized I was a guest of his aunt and cousin, I received the royal treatment.  Free bruschetta and prosecco to start.  An excellent meal beyond description.  Free cookies and a special after-dinner liqueur made from melon afterwards.  And when the waiter brought the bill, he handed me a cellophane package.  I said, “What’s this?” and he said, “Something for you to smoke.”  (Just a joke ;-)  It was a special blend of spices that Salvatore, who teaches cooking classes, makes for pasta dishes.  Can’t wait to try it!  Such sweet, funny, joyful people.

Forum of Pompeii - Mt. Vesuvius in the background (it used to be a cone-shape before it blew its top)

The next day I toured Pompeii where Mt Vesuvius rocked the world of this port city in 79 AD.  The eruption occurred around noon and I can’t imagine the terror as people tried to escape the toxic gases and ash. It’s my understanding that they didn’t even know that Mt Vesuvius was a volcano until it blew. Life stopped in a matter of minutes for close to 20,000 people – another reminder that life can change in an instant. I'm thankful that God is my rock, a place of refuge when the whole world shakes.

I decided to skip Naples altogether and turn back inland.  I had an opportunity to dip my toes in the Tyrrhenian Sea at Meta outside Sorrento, but the crush of tourists and the whole tourist atmosphere unsettled me. So I turned north again, heading through the area to the east of Rome.

That evening I got as far as Sora, a rather small city in the midst of beautiful mountains, but only 30 minutes from the sea and not far from Rome – perfect for someone who likes small town life, with access to a big city and the beach. 

View from the Portello della Fate balcony that evening

...........and the next morning, Market Day

I stayed at Portello della Fate – a lovely B&B.  Here’s the scoop – I arrived rather late without a reservation. I’m standing on the street, pushing the buzzer over and over, praying – no answer.  Suddenly a man walks up speaking rapid Italian, and then an older man saunters up. Benny (who was born in Sora, but lived in New York City for some time) translates – the owner just left to tend his Irish Pub (yes - an Italian man with an Irish Pub), but they will call him.  They do, he comes, I get a beautiful room with two balconies on the piazza for a good price – tutti bene (everything is good).   

Mauro was such a good host that I felt compelled to eat supper at his Irish Pub.  He was so nice to me – free snacks, special attention, turned up the TV when a favorite song came on so I could dance a little.  What can I say except that if you’re ever in Sora, you better go to Mauro’s Irish Pub and Portello della Fate B&B.  You won’t regret it!

Unfortunately – reality hit hard when I arrived home the next day.  The Marchesa informed me that there was still no water.  That was not the news I wanted to hear.   As Lucy would say, "Waaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

…… Love and a Time to Hate

October 2 -5, 2012

One thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned about this wonderful Roman watchtower / grain barn apartment is that the water comes from a spring-fed well.  Apparently it’s a very slow spring because Christy told me to watch my water consumption carefully to avoid water shortages.  Even with the drought that Italy experienced the entire summer before I came I’d had no water problems at all.  I practice water conservation at home – for one thing, water is a precious resource not to be wasted, and another thing is that I don’t like to pay the extra cost when I over-consume water.

As mentioned in the previous post, the Australian ladies had arrived.  I let them into their apartment and showed them around.  I also encouraged them to practice water conservation (the one thing Christy asked me to stress to them), gave them notes on good restaurants in the area and a couple of hand-drawn maps on how to get around while having a cup of tea, then said “Buona notte.”

The next day I rested, not only because it was Sunday, but also because I was exhausted from running all over the place the day before trying to sort out the “guest mess.”  And still sickly from the cold that was firmly entrenched in my chest at this point.  As I pondered the water situation, I felt it might be best if I left while the guests were in the apartment so all of us wouldn’t be using the water from the slow, spring-fed well.  I’d been here for over a month and hadn’t taken an overnight trip, so I made plans to visit Florence, coordinating my return for the day that the ladies would be leaving.

I LOVE Florence – even with the hordes of tourists, I never tire of taking in the architecture, history and art of the city.  It’s an easy city to navigate on foot and I know it pretty well from previous housesits in the area.  So I caught an early train to Florence after booking a room in an apartment in the city center.
My 'home' in Florence - a beautiful flat on a street between the Piazza della Repubblica and the Palazzo Strozzi

I got up early one morning to catch some of my favorite places without fighting the crowds – here are some images...........

Santa Maria Novella - the first time I've seen it without scaffolding all over it (for restoration) in five years

The Duomo - Santa Maria del Fiore

Florence's primary cathedral

Gilli's - a very expensive place to get a cup of coffee and all sorts of other treats

Santa Croce - with Dante glowering over the Piazza

Burial place of Galileo and Michalangelo

Taken at 8:30 am

Note the photos of the Piazza della Signoria – quite a difference!

Taken around noon


I really enjoyed my little getaway – feeling much improved, relaxed, ready to return to country living and the slower, quieter pace of life.  

Piazzale Michelangelo - popular at sunset

When I reached my front door I noticed a big white jug sitting there.  And on the door, a hand-written note from the guests…..”Dear Rita, Thank you so much for all your help on arrival.  Just letting you know the well is dry, therefore no water……….”

I HATE when that happens!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

..... Search and a Time to Give Up (Ecclesiastes 3:6)

OK my Peeps - it's been a while since I've posted and I can assure you a lot has happened since September 27th (my last post) and now (October 16th) ..... here's part of an email that I sent to a friend about what happened on Saturday, September 29th - read it and laugh..........

Entrance to the Tourist Apartment
 .........this has been a crazy day.  There is a large apartment for tourists in this stone building where I’m staying.  I'd spoken with the Marchesa di Sorbello (owner of this property) earlier in the week and agreed that I would be here on Saturday.  The Marchesa gave me the keys to the tourist apartment and asked me if I would mind letting the guests in when they arrived.  I assured her that it would be no problem because, even though I needed to run to the market for a couple of things, I felt they would get here and maybe I could cop a ride with them to the store ..... because they're going to need provisions too - right?

Well, I hang around the better part of the morning - in fact it's about lunchtime when Christy (the lady that I’m housesitting for, who helps the Marchesa rent her apartment to tourists) sends me an email that the guests will be there between 3 and 4.  Well that messes me up a little, because now I don't have time to bicycle to the market and back because I'd be afraid I'd miss the guests.  Plus they have that siesta thing around lunch (noon to 3 pm) - so I figure I'll just hang out here until they arrive.
Back of Tourist Apartment

Sometime before 3 o’clock a small car pulls up with a young man and a pregnant woman and they say they're looking for the Agriturismo Calagrana.  At least that's what I thought they said - and there is such a place down the road a ways.  To make things more complicated, somehow this business has a little icon (on Google Maps) for their Agriturismo on top of this mountain where we are, as well as down in the valley where they really are – in other words, they have two icons in two different places for their one business.  So it IS confusing - I told them what direction to head and sent them on their way.

Later on I was emailing Christy about something and told her that I'd re-directed some people to the Agriturismo Calagrana and she emails me right back and says "That must have been our guests!  The name of the apartment is “Casa del Grano” and that's what they were looking for!"

Of course, this makes me go into a state of apoplectic shock because I think that I've turned away our paying guests with NO way to get in touch with them.  I'm asking myself why didn't I ask them if they were from Australia OR if they were looking for the CASA DEL GRANO (rather than the CALAGRANA) OR if one of them was named "Robin" - I mean any question that would have made 2 and 2 go together!!!!!!

I spent 2 to 3 hours riding around on my bicycle, praying, trying not to cry, emailing Christy with profuse apologies, wondering if the Marchesa was going to put me on the rack and disembowel me - I mean, I was sick to my stomach about the whole thing.  Christy didn't have a phone number for them.  She emailed them, but they never got back to her

At some point, I just gave up – I cried out to God “I can’t do anything else.  You are God, and You can fix this if it’s Your pleasure.”  Right before dark, I'm in the kitchen (still praying) and I hear a car driving up - I run out to the gate and it's a big van with 3 very tired Australian ladies in it (one of them named "Robin") - it's the real guests!!!

I literally got on my knees and thanked God before I properly introduced myself to them.  Talk about 3 hours of gut-wrenching emotion - feeling like a village idiot.  The ladies seemed quite upset because apparently Christy told them to take a left, and they took this road that only the hunters use (if they even use it) and they said it was like going into the wilderness - boulders in the road - and no houses, I guess no place to turn around and they didn't know what to expect.  They were quite un-nerved by that and I can understand why.  I think Christy may have forgotten that road was there OR someone may have cleared the entrance to it since she left.  

This whole episode has been just a comedy of errors ...... the whole thing.  
I feel like an episode of "I Love Lucy" might be entertaining ...... so I hope you enjoy this  ;-)

Seriously I'm pretty sure my brain is 75% mucus with this horrible cold right now so that's my only excuse.....

STAY TUNED for more episodes of "I Love Rita"  hahahaha - believe me, it gets better...........