Monday, March 30, 2009

Lost in america 2009, Chalky White-best ski instructor in CO?

30 mar.
It has been a whirlwind trip, as usual, here in the US. I started out in Rome where I saw the museum of the Villa Borghese, which is certainly high on a list of "to see's" there. I finally found the church with the bones of 4000 Franciscan friars in all sorts of iconic patterns, chandeliers of clavicles, crosses of sacrums, etc. You need to walk 50 meters up the hill from the Barberini metro stop and you are there. I was trying hard not to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
I then flew to Denver arriving in the late evening with a next day flight to Chicago at 0600. I made it to the italian consulate with 45 minutes to spare and encountered Marta, an efficient and pleasant lady who promised me I had everything in order. With 5 business days to wait for the visa, I headed to St. Louis to see my family and then the next day headed back to Denver where I picked up my friends, the Cordells, when they arrived an hour later. We headed straight into the biggest blizzard of the year, arriving in the Beaver Creek area after 3.5 hours of stresssful driving. We had some of the toughest skiing the 1st day I have ever experienced with the thick powder and cold snowy weather which continued all through Thursday. Then the sun reappeared and I can't remember 2 more enjoyable ski days as we had Friday and Saturday with all the fresh snow, groomed and neat and sunny skies. Saturday, we enjoyed a great ski lesson with Chalky White, a world traveller who has lived in 13 countries where he has taught skiing in each. He was great and I could watch each of us improve in the 3 hours he spent with us. Watch for his book which will come out in the next year or so.
I have had some of the worst food in the world on this trip having eaten a really sad lunch at Chili's Too at Lambert airport in St. Louis, but also have had some good stuff here in Denver where I am searching out authentic ethnic foods I can't find in Italy.
The pics are from the Villa Borghese park and Beaver Creek. Look up Chalky, no matter what your skill lesson for a lesson and your skiing will certainly benefit.
Time to do taxes tomorrow at my peaceful retreat near RMNP, then back to Chicago to pick up my passport and fly back home Thursday.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Parental warning!

22 Marzo
Just a quick post before I head back to the USA to start the visa battle again. This week has seen a significant weather change, starting in the 60's and sun and ending in the 30's and snowflakes. I was tractoring, hoeing, affixing the tutors to the cables and chasing around Ascoli trying to get my car license (now April 7?) and my nulla osta from the questura, the most important document to take to the consulate in Chicago. I like to have things done a bit more ahead of time, but like Il Signore, their time is not my time ( a bad paraphrase, I know).
Now for the part where you need to tell the children to leave. My own sweet Bacco is now a bunny killer! He likes to walk up and down the rows as the tractor does its work and found a baby bunny which escaped the weed cover only to find his killer jaws. He is a retriever with a soft mouth and didn't eat the rabbit, just toted it around and played with it until it had a heart attack. Anyway, Raffaele buried it and it will help fertilize the pecorino.
I forgot to recount the day when I was by myself hoeing the Cab. Franc and down in the valley I saw 4 rabbits chasing each other in a game of coniglio tag. We get those litlle moments now and then and springtime is arriving, so things are green and flowering.
The lawn is seeded, the potatoes are planted along with 2 new apple trees. When I get back it will be time to plant a couple of apricot trees as well.
I am looking forward to a week and a half of english, hoping for the best with my visa as last year's mistake has become quite expensive. Having given up cynicism for Lent, I am just thinking of this as my long awaited ski trip.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Signs of Spring, new toys, seeding the yard, etc

16 Marzo.
Happy St, Patrick's Day and Buon Compleanno to Allison tomorrow. We have been busy here with the usual "stuff": removing weeds from the vineyard, mowing the lawn and seeding the long forgotten part of the lawn adjacent to the b and b which was massacred by the pool construction. As you remember, the pool wasn't finished until July, when it was too hot to seed and since the estimates for 400 square meters of sod placement were all well above 12,000 dollars, we waited and now will see if the american knows what he's talking about. I keep telling Raffaele there is no one in the area who knows more about lawn care than me, raised in the USA with all our irrigation, chemicals, Miracle-Gro etc. Unfortunately, I seeded like the old time contadinos by hand with a moderate wind, so who knows if, when all is said and done, the yard looks like my brother's head of hair (thick) or mine (sparse).
We have two rooms of guests, all related to one another, with one couple visiting from Austria and another from Greece. It has been wonderful hosting them and my new austrian friend insisted on helping in the vineyard yesterday as we attached the metal tutors to the cables to secure them.
The new tractor will come in handy with the weeding as it has a special attachment which "hoes" in between the grapevines. The attachment has a leading arm which, when it hits a tutor, causes the hoe to retract and thus leave our barbatelle unscathed. Despite this, I wiped out 3 on my 1st pass which caused 3 moments of silence as I mourned a year's worth of growth passing back into compost. As with everthing, there is a learning curve which I hope is not too steep. A caveat: the seller of the equipment and Raffaele were walking behind the tractor as I "knocked off" my children and didn't warn me or notice anything awry until it was too late.
Bacco and I visited the beach yesterday and he got to chase sticks into the sea and clean off a bit. He also made new friends wherever he went (both human and canine)
This week I will try to have the z4 inspected again after the expensive change of head and taillights. It is down to the wire for my visa stuff from Ascoli and I hope for the best as I receive my nulla osta Thursday and head off Sunday, little time for error.
I have a grand tour planned for the US with 4 flights to get my errands finished. Unfortunately, there won't be time to visit KC. I hope to finally get in a bit of skiing, however, with my friend Larry. 2 old guys vs. all the spring breakers.
Finally, go MU, Big 12 conference tourney champs. It has been great to follow a team which is coached well. I just hope he doesn't get stolen away by Georgia next year.
The pictures are of apricot flowers, ladybugs (hope they are helpful), my new assistant and the tractor with Raffaele letting his brother take a test drive.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Driving in Italy, giro in Umbria and visit my favorite towns

We now are the proud owners of a new toy, a Claas tractor with a powerful mower and a very expensive weeder which will cut down on our hoeing work around the vines. Stay tuned for a future post with pictures, but today I want to give you a little tour of my favorite towns in Umbria which is our neighboring province. These can mostly be done in day trips from Nascondiglio di Bacco although to do things right, it would be better to stay a couple of nights in Perugia or Assisi.
1st, let's talk driving tips for Italy. Renting a car is easy and all cars come with basic insurance. You can buy more as in all places, but you are covered with liability automatically. Seeing the smaller towns requires a car, so unless you are doing the Rome, Florence, Venice tour, think about renting one. The autostradas all cost more than seems reasonable, but the alternative is to arrive at your destination tomorrow instead of in 2 hours, so use them to travel long distances. The speed limit is 130 km/hr or about 84 mph, but you will see people exceeding that in their Mercedes etc. The police use radar with cameras and autovelox machines, the latter being all well marked and even listed by location on the internet. The police must set up their radar within 2km of an indication which says controllo automatico della velocita' , which are blue signs with an image of a radar signal. If you slow down every time you see one of these, you will never get cited. The limit on side roads varies from 70 - 90 km/hr, but the same rules apply for radar posts.
Maps are key in Italy and the Michelin map of Italy you buy at Barnes and Noble is useful only for the major roads, so if you don't want to get lost, buy a map of each province you are going to visit. Michelin and Touring Club Italia make the best I have found or you can get maps of the provinces at tourist information centers for free which are even more detailed sometimes.
My favorite towns in Umbria are Assisi, Orvieto, Spello, Gubbio, Perugia and Spoleto and of course, Norcia in somewhat correct order of my preference. Assisi is a wonderful place, obviously famous for St. Francis and Santa Clara, but also for its castles, fun little tourist trap shops etc. If you stay the night, you will have the place to yourself as most visitors come for the day. A side trip up Mt. Subasio to see the sunset can be worthwhile and you pass the refuge of St. Francis where he went to hide from the bickering monks. Orvieto has one of the prettiest cathedrals in Italy with fantastic external mosaic work. It is also home to ceramicists, chocalate makers, woodcarvers and is located on top of a bluff which you access by a funicular train or drive up. Spello is just a few minutes from Assisi and is very cute and made for tourists with churches, art galleries and a plethora of shops to visit. Gubbio is famous for truffles as is Norcia and has an impressive castle and Roman ruins to visit. Perugia is the capitol of Umbria and is an historic city dating back many hundreds of years. It is a lot bigger than the other towns I have mentioned and has more amenities. There are a bunch of american students who attend university there. It is famous for a jazz festival held every year as well as a chocolate festival. Spoleto is nearest to Nascondiglio di Bacco after Norcia and has a wine festival every summer, a famous roman acqueduct and castle. Norcia is famous for cured meats and as you have seen in previous posts, truffles. It is the home of St. Benedict and has an external wall in the shape of a heart. Distances and times all depend on whether you drive like me! Norcia from us is 65 minutes, Spoleto less than a half hour farther with Spello, Assis and Perugia all within a 2 hour drive of us. Orvieto gets to a bit over 3 hours and Gubbio somewhat less.
The pix are of the duomo at Orvieto, a woodcarver's shop and a rainbow on the road from Norcia to Ascoli.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Boring blog week, cooking class in Kansas City

8 Marzo
Here I am fretting last minute plans to come to the states for my visa and I still don't have an appointment with the consulate in Chicago, flights from Denver to Chicago to St. Louis to Denver to Chicago (complicated, huh), but at least I talked with someone there who will work on helping me get all the t's crossed and i's dotted.
An Fyi for those who live near KC, my friend Judy is coming to Lee's Summit to teach a cooking class. She lives near Florence where she ran a cooking school for years and I highly recommend an evening out with Judy as your host. Here is the info:
April 7 –
Tuesday Cooking Class
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Judy Witts Francini
Italian Cooking
If you've ever been to cooking class here that Jasper Mirabile, Jr. has taught - you have heard Judy's name! JJ has learned many things from his wonderful friend Judy. Judy will be here in the United States and we are so blessed to be able to host one of her classes. You will want to sign up early for this class as it will sell out quickly!
Menu del Giorno
Sundried Tomato and Toasted Almond Sicilian Pesto on Bread, Pear & Pecorino Salad wtih Arugula,
Ravioli Gnudi with Butter-Sage & Parmesan, Rice Fritters for dessert.
$55.00 per person
A Thyme For Everything
231 SE Main Street
Downtown Lee's Summit
Here, I have been hoeing every day, which doesn't make for very good blog copy, but is useful for improved health of our grapevines. I hope we have finished about a third and it has been a bit easier the last 2 days as I leave the forest of weeds to the south devastated in my wake.
Today being Sunday is a day of rest from the "zappa", but we have 4 rooms full with our guests for B&B weekend, so there will be breakfast to offer. I plan on taking a little drive into Umbria for the day with Bacco and hopefully can bring back some good pix.
I had the z4 inspected in Ascoli at the license bureau and it lacked only the proper head and tail light covers. Unfortunately, those come as one piece, with the lights included, in these wonderful BMW's, and the cost of replacement will be a mind blowing 1400 euros (add 27% for the stronger euro). Does anyone need some american approved lights for their z4? I drove my car out of their little testing garage and a speed bump made of metal broke the plastic shield under the motor just for good measure. My advice if you move to europe is to give your car to the kids and buy one here!
The weather here is almost perfect for hoeing or sightseeing in the mid 50's and sunny. We hope to plow up our 1/2 hectare in readiness for planting the cross between verdicchio and sauvignon blanc sometime in the next couple of weeks if the dry weather holds. At the same time, the old vineyard will be pulled out. Finally, our tractor should arrive in the next week or so, then I can do some REAL damage!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Heart shaped weeds, Dow dips below 7000 and Nero Norcia

2 Marzo
I just noted the dow dropped below 7000; obviously the borsa americana is not thrilled with the government's bailout plan thus far. Patience is a virtue, right?
Mizzou got their behinds spanked at allen field house this weekend, so we will have to wait for the rubber game, hopefully in the big 12 tourney. It is nice to see the Hawks and Tigers regain some of their power in 2 major sports. It seems maybe MU has a coach, finally after the playground years of Quinn.
Slumdog millionaire took the gold back to India as I had hoped. What a wonderful film in my opinion. I am trying to decide whether to see The Wrestler here in italian or wait to see it in the states. I will understand it better in english, for sure.
We headed off to a monastery near Acquasanta for Sunday mass and as we were already halfway to Norcia, we continued on after to attend the sagra (festival called Nero or black Norcia) of prized black truffles. They find both prized and banal black truffles in the zone with obvious differences in price and flavor. Norcia is the birthplace of St. Benedict, so I caught him in a wave at the tourists. I met a benedictine friar from Indiana in the giftshop which is much smaller and more discrete compared to all the St. Francis paraphernalia found in Assisi, although you can buy Benedetto's image on just about anything imaginable. We reminisced a bit about the U S of america and hopefully if he can get free from his work and pray obligations, he can come visit us here.
We are weeding the vineyard, which sounds rather quaint and homey until you see the size of some of the monsters we are pulling out from between the vines. Yesterday, I was sure I found the record bietole, (we ate his kids for lunch today), which was nicely heart shaped, although I don't think it would go over well as a valentine gift. However, today, I met his big brother, which while not in heart form, was almost as tall as me!
It rained just enough this morning to make the work a real pain and a muddy mess. I couldn't see my shoes, my hoe and gloves were too slick and after one row, I was content to call it a day and write a bit on the blog.
I really thought I was out of shape as 2 rows are enough to exhaust my strength, while last year I was doing 5 or 6 in a half day. Then as I reminisced about the "good old days", I concluded it is taking the same amount of time this year to clean 2 rows as the greater number last year. This may be the year of the Ox in China, but here in the Marche, it is looking to be the year of the Weed.
In my down time, I am rereading the Silmarillion by Tolkien, which I remember being incredibly complicated in college. Either I am better at using the glossary, my mind is more clear these days, or Chris has edited it to read more smoothly.
I am still working on licensing my car, having spent 3 different days in the license bureau last week. Once again tomorrow, then on to the Minister of Work to see if they like the contract we gave them showing I am employed in a fashion acceptable to the govt. With their signatures, I can take the contract to the immigration bureau and get a "nulla osta" and finally with that I am set to go back to Chicago to change my visa.
Believe me, next time you are in line to get a license plate, driver's license, etc., the USA is Super-Efficient!
This coming weekend is Bed and Breakfast day with a buy one night, get one night free at participating facilities all over Italy if anyone wants to take advantage this year or next.