pittsburgh, philadelphia, frankfurt, bologna

August 4, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

1st entry – le marche 2012

Left home yesterday to make a 5:40 flight to Philadelphia. Between engine trouble and delays, didn’t leave until 7:00. My flight from Philly to Frankfurt also got delayed. Supposed to leave at 8:30, but didn’t leave until 10:00. (BTW, the Philly airport is new, and very nice. Even had charging stations, so my kindle and iPhone were fully charged.)

Made it to Frankfurt with an hour to go. (They had already booked me on the 6:00 pm flight assuming I would not make my 12:40 connection.) From the air Germany looks a lot like Pennsylvania in that it’s very green. The difference is in the clustering of the towns. For us, rural Pennsylvania is spread out. Rural Germany is clustered very close together and the surrounding area is all woods or small farms.

I made sure to deplane as quickly as possible, then at Passport Control I asked if I could go first and the efficient Germans let me. Next, I ran to the gate and made it with 20 minutes to spare. Rose and Derrick were happy to see me, otherwise they would have had to wait in Bologna until the later flight got in.

With all that hassle out of the way, the next worry was luggage – would my bag make it onto the Bologna flight? It did, we landed at 2:00. But the line from hell was waiting for us.

The next step was to pick up the rent-a-car. By 2:15 we were in line at Budget. We didn’t get up to the counter until 4:00. The drive to Earle-and-Suzanne’s (Isola di Fano) was supposed to be an hour-and-a-half. It took us three hours. On the Autostrada, we met up with all the Italians who were heading to the beach for the weekend.

We got in at 7:00. Ran down to Fossombrone to the grocery store, came back showered and had our first dinner in Italy. We polished off two bottles of wine between the three of us.

the billy goats

August 5, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

2nd entry – le marche 2012

The farm up the road from us, has turkeys and goats. I love the billy-goats. And like Rainer’s cats, when I walked by they expected food – sorry guys!!

(It’s time to cook and eat. I’ll come back after supper.)

Today was a get-adjusted-to-the-local-time day, so we decided to explore the surrounding area. We went to the Gola del Furlo. It’s the valley and gorge of the River Metauro. It’s also the old Via Flaminia, the ancient road from Rimini to Rome.

So first about the house and my morning trek – the fields are different than last summer. Cut wheat-stalks cover the fields that last summer were plowed. There are no farmers plowing into the night, instead the fields are yellow with mowed wheat and bales of new-tied hay. At the farm next to us, the turkeys are still there and so are my favorite billy-goats. (This morning there was a breeze from the north; could it be the tramonto? And it perfumed the air with cow manure.) The waking sun crested the hilltop. I wanted to walk the field the sun lifted from, but it was too far away; maybe tomorrow morning.

At 8:30 the valley was alive with church bells. Yes, it’s Sunday and the bells called all to Mass. For me, the bells pulled memories of long ago. They are the Pavlovian bait that grabs me and throws me back to Calabria, to the late 1950’s; to a time when the rhythms of my life were governed by the agrarian and Roman Catholic calendar that acculturated me.

It’s midnight. Rose and Derrick have gone off to bed, and I’m blogging. I’ll finish the posting about the Gola del Furlo tomorrow morning.

la via flaminia

August 5, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

We decided to explore the gorge – Gola del Furlo – not realizing that the tunnels through the gorge were chiseled out by the Romans and their slaves. Who knew that the old Roman road la Via Flaminia was less that 20 kilometers from Isola di Fano. (Vetruvius was supposedly the architect for the tunnels through the gorge of the Metauro.) It’s amazing to realize that the two tunnels were hollowed out by hand. The pick marks are still there.

The structure on the left of us is a small un-consecrated church. (Also, between the two tunnels, was a grotto and some Italian put a statue in it. Whoever said stereotypes are not valid just has to look at the grotto with its madonna, votives and plastic flowers.) There was a young man, a volunteer, who told us all about the Via Flaminia. (In Italy, it’s young men who volunteer at churches and local museums. No sign of the old, retired ladies that volunteer at similar places in the U.S.)

The Italian word for tunnel is galleria. Rose keeps saying that the words sound so much prettier in Italian. The German overtones that permeate English are not there in la bella lingua.

eating al fresco

August 5, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

It’s Sunday, it’s August, the natives are no where to be found and nothing is open. (We knew that, hence the mad rush to the grocery store last night.) So we had to figure out supper. We settled on pasta with a sauce of fresh, sauteed tomatoes, chopped artichokes in oil, sauteed red pepper, and porchetta – a pork roll stuffed with wild fennel and garlic.

The pergola is an al fresco dining area on the property. We waited until the sun went down and then brought our food to the wrought iron table under the canvas awning.

The image is a repeat from last summer, when we sat down for my first meal in Le Marche. Then too Rose had made pasta with a fresh tomato sauce, and like last summer we ate under Earle-and-Suzanne’s pergola. It’s actually a stretch of the word, but it’s a wonderful structure, so un-Italian.

The property looks different than last year. Earle-and-Suzanne have tackled the garden area and are beginning to make some real changes to the ivy covered bank that is the base for the top-half of the property. (I love it when a property has different elevations, even if only a difference of two or three meters. My dad’s vineyard in Calabria was on three different elevations, and I remember how fun it was climbing the into-the-hillside steps between the three fields.)

the farmers-market in fossombrone

August 6, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

3rd entry – le marche 2012

For Welch …
We got up early and headed down to Fossombrone for the weekly farmers’ market. (Fossombrone is the municipality that the house we are in, is part of. Isola di Fano is the village that the house is in.) The markets are a mishmash between fresh fruits-and-vegetables, household items and clothing. In my mind, it’s the mall coming to the consumer and therefore my kind of thing. Young Italians are more willing to go to the indoor box-store malls with parking and chain stores. However, so far there is not a critical mass heading to the box-store malls and the outdoor markets are still busy and vibrant.

I love all the fresh fruits and vegetables, my kind of thing, and not having to go to a mall or a Giant Eagle kind of store is an added perk. We walked around looking at all the products and then we settled on the one or two vendors we liked. This ‘liking’ is a gut feeling consisting of answers to questions such as – do they have nice looking sales clerks? are they pushy in their sales pitch? are they helpful and tell me things I don’t know? are they willing to let me pick out my own tomatoes? are they snobs with airs? (You have to ask this of Italian vendors. Snobby usually means a 10% increase on the sales price. And given that I can be snobby with the best of them, I can pick them out immediately and I’m not giving my money to snots. I may be one, but I’m not paying extra for the priveldge of being with my kind of people.)

When I go with Rose and Derrick to these things, I’m the voice of reason. Left to their own devices, they would buy everything in sight. When it comes to food buying their frugal approach to life goes out the window. Derrick saw the cranberry colored beans – faggiole Borlotti – and then decided to buy three kilos. Now the debate is – “Do we take them home to Michigan or eat them here?” Even my mother urged them to eat them fresh and cook them immediately. (They decided to take them home to Michigan.)Once we got back fromt the market, they sat on the porch and husked them into a bowl. (I love the fact that an iPad is on the table as they surciano le surache an old Calabrese expression for shelling beans.

Lunch was fresh tomato salad with green onions and basil, a picante local cheese and these wonderful cucumbers. Rose and I put as much bread into the salad oil as we could jam. There is nothing as wonderful as Italian bread soaked in tomato salad juices.

The afternoon adventure was a trip to Fano to the TIM’s store to put in a new sim card into Derrick’s phone so that next week we could use it as a hot-spot. (Earle-and-Suzanne’s was not available for our second week, so we booked at an agriturismo – La Tavola Marche – and they do not have Internet.)

san lorenzo in campo

August 7, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

4th entry – le marche 2012

Earle-and-Suzanne’s house is in the Metauro River valley; it’s on the northern slope of the rounded hills that form the valley below us. Each morning I look out and see the hilltop towns of the next valley, and I’ve wanted to go exploring these structures that shape the horizon. Today was the day to explore the next valley to the south of us. We drove down to Isola di Fano and then up the mountain and into the next valley. (Derrick had put in ‘off-road’ when he was setting up the GPS, and Rose yelled and yelled. The off-road trip would have taken us 3 hours, the fastest-time trip had us at Fratte Rosa the hilltown we see from the kitchen window in 30 minutes.)The interior of Le Marche is these cultivated, rolling hills. And this patchwork is one of my favorite landscapes.

Our first stop was to Fratte Rosa and immediately there were signs of foreigners. The entire town has been beautifully refurbished; all the houses have been cleaned and pointed. (It reminded me of Assisi. Modern day Assisi is the disneyland of Catholicism. The entire town has been refurbished to keep the tourists with loaded pockets coming. Forget the fact that Francis made poverty a virtue, modern day Assisi is anything but poor.)

The next evidence of foreigners was in San Lorenzo in Campo. (It was full of tall, blond Germans.) I did forgive them their invasion, because we found a Frutta e Verdura shop where the owner sold us the best Visciolata wine ever. This is a dessert wine made in Le Marche. It’s made from wild cherries mixed with wine. I walked in and asked if he would sell us a bottle of wine and then open it so we could have it for lunch. Of course he would. Well, he ended up having to uncork two bottles before he was successful at getting the plastic cork out. He put those two bottles aside and he picked out a third with a real cork that he was able to remove. We now had our wine. Earlier I had bought two slices of pizza with bacon and eggplant, Rose and Derrick had paninis stuffed with porchetta. (I told the owner of the Frutta e Verdura that in America it would be illegal for him to open the wine and then sell it to us. He said American is very open, but very contrary.)

We drove to the next small town and sat in the piazza in the shade and had our picnic lunch. Oh yes, the man from the Frutta e Verdura packed us three plastic cups. After our piazza lunch I went over to the local real estate office. (It was the only business still open.) It listed all these farm-houses for sale. Some were completely restored,, others were ruins. The prices were beyond high. They were so over-priced that I couldn’t believe people were paying these prices. I guess the Germans dodn’t see the prices as exorbitant, highway robbery, out-right stealing …

The Viscolata we had after dinner with fresh melon. (Rose is already planning a trip back to San Lorenzo in Campo to buy more Viscolata. She’s planning to take at least one bottle back to Michigan. I’ll think about it throughout the year and it will become another reason to return next summer.

the farmer in the dell

August 8, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

5th entry – le marche 2012

The weather has been miserably hot, but last night it broke. And at 2:00 in the morning the farmer from the next property was still plowing. I understand working in the cool night, but am amazed by the practicality of it all.
In many ways that’s what keeps surprising me about Italy – how practical everything is organized. The problem is that this orderliness is severely taxed in the summer months when the country is overrun with mobs, and I mean that in a literal sense, of foreigners. And then we all whine about things being inefficient. I wonder if any country can efficiently manage the millions that descend into Italy each summer. Disney can do it at a theme park, could it do if for a whole country? Especially when the locals have to continue their day-to-day routines – go to work, cook, visit, go to doctor’s appointments, go food shopping – all while the tourists, who have left their day-to-days back home, want entertained, want no interruptions, want immediate service, want no traffic jams, want cool days, want people who speak English …

This morning the farmer is back out, I heard the tractor as early as 6:00. He’s spreading manure in the lower field, and because the wind is blowing away from us, there is no perfumed air.

le montagne

August 8, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

We decided to head south to the caves at San Vittore. This southwestern region is full of caves; the best know are the Grotte di Frasassi. To get there, the GPS took us on the provincial roads that hug the mountains. (In Italian there are different words for mountains depending on their shapes. In Calabria, with its Sila peaks, they’re montagne. Here in north central Le Marche, with its tall rolling hills, they’re colline.I love the ride through the center.

These are the provincial roads and the only arteries into the country with amazing vistas. (The tolled Autostrada and the non-tolled Supra Strada run in valleys, on flat terrains, along the coast, along the side of mountains, through tunnels in gorges. They are full of traffic – foreigners and locals. For the Italians speed limits and traffic laws are only suggestions. This drives the foreigners crazy. I like the Italian word for foreigner better than the English. In Italian foreigners are stranieri. Our word strange is wrapped up in the Italian comment about people not like them.) The provincial roads are the only access points for people living in the interior. They lead to all the postcard-perfect hill towns we see in travel brochure. But because most stranieri aren’t willing to deal with the roller-coaster ride that the provincial roads offer, they avoid the interior.

The image in this post is the gorge where the Grotte di Frasassi are located. Before we got here, we stopped at a local supermarket and bought lunch. You buy all the ingredients for a panino and the clerks assemble it. We left the store with two panini, two slices of pizza, some olives and both carbonated and non-carbonated water – lunch. There was a picnic table on the right. We sat there and ate out grocery-store lunch. (My pizza was bland, but that’s what I expected when I bought it at the large, chain store.)

all through the night

August 8, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

It’s 10:00 pm local time and the farmers of the valley are plowing. The evenings are cool and the night sky is black with stars. The farmer from up the road is driving his blue tractor making patterns in the hillside. If last night is any indication of his work schedule, he will be at it all through the night. The farmer is using a huge tractor to plow. I shot a series of pictures as he came down the hill, the plow into the earth. (The gold haze of the mowed wheat fields is one of my favorite colors.)Coming from a country and city where farm rhythms are things of the past, it’s hard to put my head around the work routines here in rural Le Marche.

Today we drove through Senigallia, one of the premier beach resorts on the Adriatic. I bet no one there works through the night plowing fields. I bet no one there knows anyone who makes their living plowing fields.

After supper, Derrick and I took a walk up to the old abandoned house I found the other night when I went into the fields to shoot. The field is the highest point on this side of the valley and I wanted to shoot from that vantage point. And there in the trees at the top was an old farmhouse. I figured out where the driveway was and tonight we make the trek back up the house. The view is truly spectacular. From the property you have a 360 degree panorama.

pesaro and the northern coast

August 9, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

6th entry – le marche 2012

Today we drove to Pesaro and the northern coast. Where Senigallia is overrun with tourists and frantic, Pesaro is full of locals and slow. The streets in the old town are shadowed by trees, and the beaches are orderly if riddled with umbrellas.We got there early enough to walk the streets with the locals. Near the government center, an old church had been retrofitted into a post office, and I decided that would make a great shot, so I walked across the street to shoot the facade with the yellow postal sign inside the main entrance. A young man came up to me and began a harangue about the injustice of having retrofitted a church. He then asked if I was from Pesaro, I went into a full-American pretending I had not understood him and that I was a lowly tourist. He looked disgusted, but left. (So, was the disgust about the injustice of government taking over a church or that I was an American who only spoke one language – American English?)

BTW, most of the English you find here is British English – axioms, spellings, terminology. For example, at lunch the menu had an English translation. I wanted a salad, and I’m looking at the ingredients in English and one of the items was ‘rocket’. What the hell is rocket? There’s no such vegetable with that name. Rose told me that rocket is arugula. And that the British call it rocket. What!! (It may come from the other word for arugula – rucola. But how do you get rocket from rucola? Only a culinary challenged society could call an edible grass a rocket.) Another item for my list of Things-to-Hold-Against-the-British.

I probably need to re-examine my comments. The young man from Pesaro was ranting against the government take-over of church-owned buildings, I’m here ranting about the British. I guess all Italians have something to harangue about, even old ones who now live full-time in America.

the gothic line

August 10, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

7th entry – le marche 2012

World War II still shapes the Italian character. My family left after the war, and here I am back.

People of my parents’ generation lived through the war years and their children carry that legacy without even knowing it. It took me a while to understand how the war changed my life. Because, my parents were too young to participate, I never thought that their actions and decisions were the result of what the war had done to their homeland. I just assumed we left for Canada, because all the grandparents were there. Certainly never thought about the fact that the economy of post-war Italy was in the toilet and my dad could not make a living.

And growing up in Canada and the US, the war stories were about winning. The books we read in high school were about British men and women who fought valiantly and won. I didn’t hear about the holocaust until I moved to America. And still no one ever talked about Italy in the war except to mention Mussolini. (I came to hate Winston Churchill’s writings. They tell a one sided story. In the writings he has no understanding of what the regular people of Italy and Germany suffered. He has no empathy for the victims of the war. Instead he brags about the resolve of the British people and the low character of the Germans and Italians.)There are World War I memorials in all the piazzas of all the small towns. World War II memorials are rare. The one in Pesaro was disturbing. It’s a wall of funereal pictures of the freedom fighter.

This part of Italy was the Gothic Line – The Gothic Line – Linea Gotica – formed Germany’s last major line of defense in the final stages of World War II along the summits of the Apennines during the fighting retreat of German forces in Italy. The Allies breached the Gothic Line on both the Adriatic and central Apennine fronts during Operation Olive also known as the Battle of Rimini in the autumn of 1944. Over a million men participated in the battle.

gabicce monte

August 10, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

How can I pass up a title like that, even if it doesn’t mean anything to people who read this?

After Pesaro we headed north on the winding coastal road that runs along the top of the Apennine ridge; the vistas down to the Adriatic are wonderful.

(Some facts – the road on the ridge is lined with Renaissance mansions. Rich Italians, to escape the blistering summer heat, went to the mountains not the sea. Only poor people, who lived in the mountains throughout the year, would go to the beach for a summer break. The villas of the rich look out onto the Adriatic. The servants would open the house sometime in June and spend the next months cooking the local cuisine. The landowners sat on their verandas and were waited upon.)

The cliff area, outside of the Pesaro, is a national park. And during World War II, this was the Gothic Line that the Germans defended until they lost it in the Battle of Rimini.

At the end of the ridge is the resort town of Gabicce Monte a small quaint mountain-town full of restaurants that cater to the beach crowd. We had lunch at one of these restaurants. I ordered a salad – I can’t do a full lunch and not go back to the house and sleep for the afternoon. (In this way, I’d fit in perfectly with the Italian afternoon routines.) Rose was scandalized that I would order a simple salad when I had a full menu of Italian specialties to pick from. (This was the menu that listed ‘rockets’ as an ingredient in my arugula salad.)Below us, Gabicce Mare is the small coastal town at the north-eastern border of Le Marche and Emilia Romagna. The area is actually two towns, Gabicce Mare on the Le Marche side and Cattolica on the Emilia Romagna side. The pic is shot from our table at the restaurant that served rockets in my salad. The lines in the water are breakers – stone walls to keep the tides away from the sun-bathing public. (I suspect that there are no dermatologists in Italy. No one would pay any attention to their advice about staying out of the sun. Remember, the Italians embrace the sun – O Sole Mio.)

urbania, gelato e farro

August 10, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

Today is our last full-day at Earle-and-Suzanne’s. (Tomorrow we head over to La Tavola Marche.) We decided to have dinner at a restaurant, in San Lorenzo in Campo, that specializes in farro dishes. San Lorenzo is in the next valley to the south of us and to get there you literally go over the mountain and through the campi.

Because of our dinner reservations, we decided to explore close to the house and Urbania fit the bill. It’s claim to fame is a Befana festival in early January. It’s a small town on the cusp of renewal.
The town was quite lively and full of Italian tourists and foreign students. (There is an international school here and kids come from all over to the music academy.)

After our exploration we stopped at a gelateria and it had a Nutella flavored gelato. I had to have one. It was really not good – too much Nutella and not enough gelato.

The next eating adventure was at the Farroteca in San Lorenzo in Campo. The drive over, as I said, was over the mountain. (We go by one of my favorite hill-towns – Fratte Rosa – and I think I like that valley more than the one we are in.) We parked in the main piazza and walked the short distance to the restaurant.

The place is on a property with three structures – a villa, the itinerant farmers’ residence that is now modernized and the old animal shed that has been renovated into the restaurant. The owner – Lea – is this vivacious older woman who had us laughing throughout the entire meal. (She complained loudly about the Italian version of Socialism and was taken back when I told her that millions of Americans don’t have health care. Her answer was, “Questo non e gusto.” – That is just not fair.

Dinner was great. It was a fixed menu. We began with a farro salad. (The olive oil is from her property across the valley – Monterosso – and tasted amazing.) This was followed by cheese with prosciutto and small farro breads topped with olives and zucchini. The third course was a fresh, soft cheese on farro pita. The primo piatto was ricotta ravioli with porcini mushrooms. This was followed by sweets served with the local dessert wine – Visciolata – and espresso finished the meal. (We had a bottle of red wine from her vineyard and two liters of sparking water with our meal.) The entire dinner cost us 75 euros.


August 11, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

8th entry – le marche 2012

Today is our last day at this great house.
Last year, Rose found this listing and we decided to take a chance. I believe our expectations were what they had always been – probably looks better online than it really is. We were wonderfully surprised.

The house is a restored itinerant farmers’ house. (My dad’s family lived in such a house in Calabria. The property owner housed the workers in various such houses on his property.) The ground floor was where the animals were kept and the first floor was where the family lived.

Earle-and-Suzanne have restored the ground floor and they live there. The first floor is the rental. The tall beamed ceilings are all visible, the kitchen is very efficient and comfortable. There are two bathrooms, one en-suite and very large second one. One of my favorite things about the house, and I know there are many, are the views. You get up in the morning to the manicured valley. (The house sits on a hill in the middle of the Metauro Valley.) We sit on the porch and have our morning espresso.

We’ve been going exploring late morning and early afternoon, but we are back by 3:00. We rest. The natives have been home since noon, but we tourists add some extra hours to the first part of the day. We begin preparing for supper around 7:00 and go and sit under the pergola for our evening meal.

For us, the house fits perfectly. It’s convenient to the provincial roads and the Autostrade. There is a small hamlet at the bottom of the hill for bread and cheese and Fossombrone is twenty minutes away.

week two – in the mountains

August 11, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

We left Earle-and-Suzanne’s this morning and drove to La Tavola Marche. It’s a combination agriturismo, cooking school and mountain retreat. We showed up around 12:30 and we got settled in. We’re on the top floor. Our apartment is very nice, very roomy. After we had unloaded everything, especially the food, we had lunch and headed over to the pool. It was so nice to just sit in the sun and when it got too hot, jump into the cool water.

The image is the mountains outside our kitchen window – a very different landscape from the Valley of the Metauro in Fossombrone. (Ashley told us that the top of the mountain is really Umbria.) We are in the south-western section of Le Marche. The area around the farmhouse is void of human traffic. The only things you hear are the cicadas, and the other guests at the pool. And if the guests are taking their afternoon nap then the place is silent.

In order to get Internet, we have to go down to Piobbico, a ten minute drive down a dirt road. My strategy this week is to do all the Photoshop and writing off-line and copy and upload everything when we are in town. (Piobbico is the town where they have the Ugliest Man and Woman festival.)

It’s 6:18 pm. I’m sitting outside at the Cafe del Corso in Piobicco, eating a cooffee granita and finishing this posting.

Rose took a picture of the old man, blogging. Once she sends it, I’ll post it.

the old can blog too

August 11, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

If it were up to me this is the kind of pic that would never see the light of day, but it’s a record. I’m sitting in Piobicco and that is a coffee granita in front of me. And for those truly observant anal retentive friends – yes, I’ve shaved the beard. (Another reason to bury the pic in some directory where it would never be found.)

All the foreigners come here to get Internet access. It’s mainly Dutch and German tourists. They flock here because of the hiking.

After we finish with our online fix, we are heading back to La Tavola Marche and will figure out what to have for supper.

Decided to add to this entry, because I always like to fill up the space around the pics. Yesterday and today, I prepared everything before we come down to Piobbico and then sent it up to the journal while at the Cafe del Corso. I think that writing the entries ahead of time has resulted in text almost free of tension. I’ve been leaving out the edge. An edge, a sarcastic voice that had found its way in as I sat, leisurely reviewing the day.

Today at Cafe del Corso there are more locals than foreigners. The three of us are the only ones sitting together, but not talking. We are busy with our various devices. The Italians around us are all yaking away. (There’s lots of complaining about various family members.) Tonight’s crew is older and probably on a passegata before heading home to the Sunday light meal.

My mandatory drink tonight is a cold chocolate. Still not great, but better than last night’s. Buy something and get Internet connection. Not a bad deal.

BTW, I was telling Rose that I get most of my protein from cheese and she was surprised and had to look up the protein value of milk products.

girasoli & sant’angelo in vado

August 12, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

9th entry – le marche 2012

I love being in the mountains. (Earle-and-Suzanne’s is urban compared to where we are this week.)
This morning I walked down the road and there were all the farms that dot the valley. Came back and started shooting the sunflowers – le girasole – on the property. And the bees … (It was really the dark, dark blue.) There are hives on all the farms we pass, and now I know where the bees end up. Also, found that the plants that look like corn are pig corn. It grows nothing like American, genetically modified corn. The pig corn grows a single cob, a plume at the top of the leaves, with no husk. Here corn has always been something farmers feed the animals. Humans do not eat corn-on-the-cobs in Italy. But, there’s a whole food culture in northern Italy based on polenta – a mush made from corn flour – as the staple.

Today we decided to explore Sant’Angelo in Vado. We expected a back-water town and it turned out to be a great little town. We got there after Mass let out and it was teeming with locals.

To get there we literally went up and over the mountain. The road is this twisty, steep slope heading forever down. The name is Saint Angelo in the Valley. Guess we had to get down the mountain and into the valley. When we got there, we followed the town people into the Cathedral. (I didn’t take pics. There were too many of the faithful still milling around.

We found a store and bought dinner – roasted rabbit in wild fennel and garlic, stuffed zucchini, eggplant and peppers.

We left Sant’Angelo in Vado and did not want to go back up the mountain road, so we headed into Umbria and the provincial roads. We might as well have gone back up the mountain. We traded one mountain for another and headed down the next steep incline into another valley. (The speed limit is 70 km/h. I don’t know how they do it on the mountain roads. Even the bikes are racing the roads. BTW, everyone here wears helmets. There are signs everywhere reminding drives of the dangers of not wearing a helmet. Too bad Americans put machismo ahead of safety. But then they aren’t driving the mountain roads of Italy.)

if loreto, then the reformation

August 13, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

10th entry – le marche 2012

Today we drove across Le Marche and then south to Loreto, the city of the holy house. (Supposedly, angels carried the house that Mary lived in from Palestine and deposited in Loreto.)

The Basilica is this huge structure with a square in front. The square is surrounded by porticos. One side is the Apostolic Palace – Church offices on the piazza level, Church residences on the second floor. These are grand residences that are now a museum and it’s clear that the Church officials who lived in these rooms were nobility. There is no poverty here.
A young man was painting these chalk-drawings on the floor of the piazza. He had three baskets for donations under each. (Hey, if Mother Church can collect from all the pilgrims that flock here, why can’t he?)

Loreto attempts to do the same thing that Assisi does – create a destination for pilgrims. The difference between the two locations stares you in the face. Where Assisi has historical significance – the birth place of Francesco di Bernardone – and artistic significance – Giotto’s famous frescoes line the walls of the Cathedral; Loreto is fictional Catholicism. The Church made up this place.

Inside of the Cathedral, behind the main altar is this four-sided, open box of marble, beautifully decorated with carvings and reliefs. This external box is amazing in its complexity and artistry. The inside is lined with rock – supposedly from Palestine – but open to the dome. The ceiling is early Signorelli. In Orvieto, we see the mature master depicting the Apocalypse with its avenging angels assigning the locals their place in a tableau of eternal-rest. (In Loreto the avenging angel is in grey armor. In Orvieto he’s gloriously naked. In Loreto he’s a two meters tall controller, in Orvieto he’s a 10 meters tall beautiful avenger, the central figure in the tableau.)

It’s hard to walk through this box and think of the young Palestinian woman who was supposed to have lived here. There are frescoes on the stone walls, frescoes of angels. (Judaism does not depict heavenly creatures. The frescoes are Italian in execution and culture.) There is a marble altar in front of the back wall. There are gold candle holders on the marble altar. And the stones look like they could have come from any quarry in the area. And there are small niches with other gold ornaments. It’s absolutely clear that this whole complex was created and given meaning by some Church official. There is no theological, archeological, or religious base for anything here. It was created as a place that would attract pilgrims, that would attract pilgrim money. It is extremely successful. Four million pilgrims a year journey to Loreto.

I always understood Martin Luther on an intellectual level. After being in Loreto, I understand him on a gut level. Seeing the Disneyland house and realizing it’s a for-profit operation, makes Martin Luther a visionary, a prophet that the Catholic Church could not accept or learn from. And like all true prophets, he was persecuted and ostracized.

Oh, BTW, the Madonna of Loreto is a black Madonna.

driving a musa

August 14, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

11th entry – le marche 2012

Last night I drove from the agriturismo into Piobbico on my own. It was my first time driving the rent-a-car. (It’s only registered in Derrick’s name.) I was cautious and wanted to get back before sundown; I didn’t want to drive the unpaved country road in the dark.

BTW, the Musa is the Lancia rent-a-car. It’s a great small car. (Wish we had access to some of the small car models they have here.)
We come into town daily to check email and blog. (The agriturismo is in the mountains about 1,400 feet abovee sea-level and no Internet.) For some reason, tonight I could not get Internet access anywhere in the cafe. Even moved my seat to two different tables.

So after calling Leger, because I had a phone connection, I headed back.

I like driving in Italy, it’s never boring. (There’s not a straight road anywhere.) Yesterday we spend most of the day on either the Autostradra or the provincial roads. These are fast arteries on the plains or the side of the mountains. The road to and from the place we are staying at is unpaved and the dust clouds hide the car as we drive its ruts and shoulders.

wireless verdi cries

August 14, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

Today was a recoup. We went into Piobbico for the market and for coffee; and then headed back to La Tavola Marche to sit by the pool. (The Dutch family with its four, loud children left for the day; we had the pool to ourselves.)

It is incongruous to be in the mountains of Le Marche and to sit by a pool full of clear, blue water. It’s Italian and American at the same time. (The two young owners of La Tavola Marche are Americans.) To add to the incongruity, the water in the pool is from a sulfur spring on the property, and every morning it’s treated to make it clear and sulfur free. And finally, Natalie Merchant is on my iPhone singing:

holidays must end as you know
all these memories take them home with me
the opera, the stolen tea, the sand drawings, and the virgin sea
years ago . . .

I do like being in the mountains. It really is the summer vacation of my youth. Many families in Aprigliano would go up to La Sila for the summer months. The mountains were their retreat from the summer heat. When she was a young woman, my mother went up with my grandfather, because he lived up in La Sila with the sheep during the summer months. My dad went up to La Sila to work, to hunt, to pick mushrooms. And even though I never went, I am of that generation most associated with my parents and their narrative became my early reference point. I just assumed sooner or later we would go up to La Sila during August. (Nah, we went to cold northern Ontario.) It’s with Connie that my parents’ narrative lost its meaning. She was two when we left Aprigliano. The narrative she heard was of her parents struggling to make a better life in Sault Ste Marie and how she would benefit from their struggle.

It takes a long time to situate oneself in a family continuum and age helps to figure out one’s placement in that family line. That awareness is faint during the time when we are building careers and families. (For me the awareness has come when those two accomplishments have been safely established.) Spending the last 8 summers here in Italy brings me into the continuum that is my family’s legacy to its oldest child.

The idea of going to the sea – al mare – during the summer is a modern protocol. I guess the way we know we are old and the mantle has passed is when the next generation begins to create its own routines. All my cousins in Aprigliano now talk about il mare throughout the summer. They send me pictures of them sitting in the maze of beach-chairs and umbrellas along the Mediterranean coast. I try and explain to my parents that they are on holiday, but the idea is not something they can associate with Calabria. For them, the beach in the summer is an American experience. (Last night we talked to them, and I kept telling Rose to just say that we are in a place like La Sila. As soon as they heard that reference they knew exactly what the area we are in looks like.)


August 15, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

12th entry – le marche 2012

Today is that magical holiday in Italy where everything is supposed to be closed and everyone is away on vacation. (It’s the feast of the Assumption and the Italians are supposed to bee in church.) Since we’ve been coming, we’ve seen this tradition change. This morning all the cafes, on the street are open and I’m sitting in Crazy Bar, with Internet access. (I have no idea why Italians think that using American names for their establishments is great PR.)

The first couple of days we just looked at all the locals down the street at the Crazy Bar. None of the tourists ventured down there. Well, given that Internet access was sporadic at the other location, I walked down, plopped myself among the old me and flipped open my laptop. They looked over and I said, Bongiorno without a trace of a foreign accent. They went back to their card-playing, I went back to blogging.

When we were in Cosenza, everything was closed for ferragosto. And given that Le Marche is similar to Calabria in its history with poverty and Church control, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that the marchegiani seem to have thrown off the shackles of Mother Church.
Later we will head down to the river for a picnic. That will be our contribution to ferragosto. The tourists that come to this area of Le Marche spend their time trekking the trails around the river beds. (At this time of year, the rivers that in the spring are torrents are trickles of water. This makes the river-beds great trails to walk and explore and picnic along.)

sagra di polente

August 15, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

Tonight, on ferragosto, we went to a Sagra del Polentone alla Carbonara in a small town – Cagli – between Piobbico and Aqualagna. (I hate polenta, and here I am going to a fish-fry type event that will serve nothing but polenta.) My mother and Leger will give me a very hard time about this. The sagra was in the parking lot of a Romanesque, country church – S. Maria A. di Naro, Chiesa Romanica, (sec. XI) – built in the eleventh century.

Tables and tents were everywhere. We went early; the polenta was being made as we got there. And within 15 minutes we got our food. The carbonara sauce was super rich, so here I am eating a gelato to balance the grease. BTW, the cafe down the street from us has a DJ and he just finished playing Everybody is Talking at Me.

Tonight we will have a quiet evening and tomorrow we are going exploring the small towns around Fossombrone. We really like that part of Le Marche.

alone & abandoned

August 16, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

13th entry – le marche 2012

This morning I finally got up early and headed down the road for a walk. (There’s an abandoned cemetery and I wanted to go shoot it.) Mornings are amazing, the sun is just rising, so you don’t get the onslaught of the mid-day heat and the bugs are sleeping. The mountains at this time of day are silent. It’s taken me all these years to finally get into the mountains. (There are side-roads off the unpaved main road, but I didn’t have the proper clothes to trek up these paths.)The pig-corn is still a wonder for me. I’ve not see anything like it in America. (I’ll have to google it and Wikipedia it and see what comes up.) I also found a wide path down to the river – a tributary of the Candigliano which in turn is a tributary of the Metauro. However, the find of the morning was the cemetery. There are less than a dozen graves left. (Ashley said that all the people buried here are from the same farm-family up the road.)

The cemetery has a wall around it. The wall opposite the gate has the chamber that would have been used to keep coffins in the winter. The repository chamber is open, so I went in. Inside were all these wrought iron crosses, no two are the same. (In the cemetery in Aprigliano, I was amazed when I discovered all the different crosses that topped the small mausoleums. All were different.) These abandoned crosses are made to put into the ground as markers. Given that the whole left side of the courtyard is empty, these abandoned crosses must have come from that side. (It’s not uncommon in Italy to un-inter a coffin and re-bury it in a new, better, more prestigious location. (Most of my paternal grandmother’s family in Aprigliano, has been moved from the old cemetery in to the newer section. My mother told me that as soon as they build the above-ground crypts in the Soo, many Italian families un-interred their loved ones and placed them in the above ground crypts.) I suspect that many coffins were moved from this small mountain cemetery to the new cemetery in Piobbico. The only remaining graves are on the wall to the right of the chamber. These are the graves of the Gnucci family.

On my way back, I kept thinking that landscape can shape character just as much as family. Italy, except for the coastal plains and these are narrow strips, is a country of mountains. People live in these unique communities with mountain barriers separating them. (In Pittsburgh we talk a lot about the different neighborhoods and how the topography isolates communities and how these communities have developed distinctive personalities.) Well Italy is a whole county of such distinctive communities. No wonder it took forever to unite the country. It also explains the lack of national identity and the focus on local identity. (Pittsburgh too is famous for local identities and a lack of municipal consciousness.) Italy has been dealing with one other variable that only now America is recognizing – bad central government. The lack of trust in a central government, a by-product of living in isolated communities, has added to a strong township allegiance.

maria goretti – the twisted life of saints

August 16, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

In the afternoon we drove to Mondavio and then Corinaldo. Corinaldo is the birth place of Maria Goretti. The only thing I remember about this saint is that she died rather than give up her virginity. (I remember a lot of jokes about her being the only Italian girl to say, “No.”) Well today got a different story, one that has me thinking that the Church in Le Marche has done some very unusual things – declaring that angels brought a house over from Palestine; declaring that a young girl from a migrant-workers’ family is a saint, because she put up a fight rather than give up her virginity to the landowner’s son. The son frustrated by of her refusal, stabbed her to death. But, before she died, she forgave her would-be-rapist.

The story continues – the son then goes up to Goretti’s mother – Mamma Assunta – and asks for her forgiveness. The mother tells him that since her daughter forgave him, he was forgiven. He then goes to live with a group of Franciscan monks, but never takes vows. Goretti is buried in the church of Santa Maria Goretti in Corinaldo in the crypt, her mother is buried on the left side of the nave and her would-be-rapist on the right side of the nave.

Now, my version of the story – The landowner’s son is the would-be-rapist that part of the story is consistent, but I suspect that his well-connected father went to the local Franciscan prior and made a deal. – “Declare Maria Goretti a saint, but let it be known that she forgave my son before dying. House my son in one of your monasteries and I will give a large donation. The Church gets a new saint from the peasant class, think of how many donations that will bring in; after all the villain is the landowner’s son, another plus in the class warfare propaganda the Church likes to traffic in, but don’t forget that she forgave him proving her worth to be a saint. Plus let’s not forget my sizable contribution.”

Nowhere in the story is law enforcement mentioned. And how is it that a migrant-worker’s family, who was as poor as dirt, can get through the bureaucracy that is the Roman Catholic Church to get their daughter proclaimed a saint. Nah, there were other more powerful forces at work. And for me those are the rich landowner, the Franciscans, and the local law enforcement. All had to agree on the plan and all had to get something from it – a win-win situation – in order for it to work.

The Italians had a new saint. Le Marche had a second site to attract tourists with religious leanings who hopefully will put money into the offering boxes.

urbino – la festa del duca

August 17, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

14th entry – le marche 2012

Today we headed up to Urbino. It’s my favorite place in Le Marche. It’s the Milan – modern, organized, clean and rich – of the province. The old centro is vibrant and well maintained. The surrounding suburbs are modern and development is controlled and well managed.

The old city-center was full of bancarelle – vendor-booths to celebrate La Festa del Duca. We got there as the vendors were setting up. (All the stalls used bales of hay to mark their perimeters. Guess it’s to go with the medieval look.) In the evening more actors would be out participating in processions, jousting tournaments, theatrical performances and other dress-up events. (We didn’t stay for this part of the entertainment.)

The image above was too difficult to resist. (I did take it with the zoom, wasn’t sure it was polite to shoot it up close.) For me, it’s two medieval characters – one playing at dress-up, the other wearing her required uniform; one representing the merchant class of the Middle Ages, the other representing the corporation that ruled at the time. (In the future, will some men walk around in Armani suits when everyone else is wearing unisex spandex and riding segways or landspeeders? Will cities host Sagra di McDonalds or Bill Gates Festivals?)

urbino – la citta ideale

August 17, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

Urbino’s palace culture gave rise to the first-ever painted images of utopian cities in the form of a trio of intriguing panels, all now known as “The Ideal City,” one of which remained in Urbino, the other two are in Baltimore and Berlin.

Years ago, I spent part of my junior-year at the Universita per Stranieri in Perugia. At that time Perugia was this sleepy, Umbrian hill-town in the middle of Italy. We lived with the locals. And Corso Vannucci – the main thorough-fare was full of local vendors who tolerated us. There was this great bakery/cafe that had the best pastries. The owner was this very masculine looking woman who ran the register. And after having our espresso or a granita-di-cafe, we had to get up the courage to go up and pay hoping that the she wouldn’t insult or berate us. (For the longest time, I pretended to not speak Italian because I didn’t want her telling me that I had a Calabrian accent. Il Mezzogiorno – the provinces south of Naples – were in great disfavor and looked down upon. I certainly didn’t want to be associated with them people.)

Perugia has changed radically since those long-ago days. All the local vendors are gone from Corso Vannucci. Guess Jeans, Armani, Starbucks and McDonalds now rent the store fronts.Urbino never went through this type of transformation. Instead it managed its transition into the modern world keeping the old centro in tack and economically viable for local vendors; its suburbs orderly; its new construction architecturally cohesive; and its university for Italians. It bills itself as la citta ideale – the ideal city.

Everywhere in Urbino is an energy that you find in all growing, vibrant cities. The streets are free of filth; the medieval walls are pointed and cleaned; the old city is full of people; the cafes and bars cater to the locals rather than the tourists.

The above tag is from an exhibit – La città ideale, l’utopia del Rinascimento a Urbino tra Piero della Francesca e Raffaello – The ideal city. The Renaissance utopia in Urbino from the time of Piero della Francesca to Raphael.

the iconic shot

August 18, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

15th entry – le marche 2012

We are leaving La Tavola Marche and heading to Bologna. I wanted that iconic “Italians in the window” shot, so I asked Ashley if she would take the pic. We are leaning out of the dining-room window looking down onto the courtyard, the outside dining space. (I need to explain the close-up feature of the camera. All the people that I asked to take our pic never zoomed in. Are they uncomfortable with the big camera?) Ours was their largest unit. We had two large bedrooms with en-suite baths and a nice sized living-dining-room/kitchen.

I enjoyed our time in the mountains. It was a surprise to hear nothing but the whirring of the cicadas. And I like my attic room with its tall ceilings, beams-and-slats, wooden shutters. (It reminded me of our house in Calabria, me lying awake in bed looking up at the ceiling. And the twin beds certainly stirred the old synapse awake.) The shutters stayed shut all day to keep out the blistering sun, but at night I kept them partially opened to let in the cool night breezes. (I really liked the mechanism that, when open, kept them flush with the outside walls.)

According to Ashley, the third floor was where the family, that owned the house, lived. I find that odd, because the more common arrangement is that the animals are housed on the first floor and the family lives on the second floor. (The only thing I can think of is that it’s a huge house and may have had more than one family living in it. And that the owners chose to live as far away as possible from the smell of the animals.)

from the top of the cathedral – bologna

August 18, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

We flew into Bologna thinking that it would be a shorter ride to Fossombrone than driving from Rome. Distance wise it is shorter, but we totally forgot about ferragosto and beach traffic. Two weeks ago, it took us four hours to get to Earle-and-Suzanne’s and today it took us five hours to get back to Bologna. This time we hit all the traffic going home after the August 15 holiday. (It should have been a 2 hour drive.)

We also flew into Bologna knowing that we would have a day there to walk around, visit our favorite restaurant, and visit our favorite cheese and salami store. (The food in the Emilia Romagna region is worth going out of one’s way for.) This time there was an added treat. They are repairing the weather damage to exterior of the cathedral and for 3 euros, you can climb the scaffolding to the top and see the city from on-high.

The shot is of the Neptune Fountain in the north western section of the piazza.

The front of the cathedral has no fancy marble facade. The Reformation put an end to the steady stream of cash and the cathedral was left unfinished. It’s amazing to realize that the Reformation destroyed the economy that the Catholic Church had created. (It’s always presented as a theological threat and never explained as the trigger that ended the reign of a corporate giant. I guess Martin Luther didn’t believe in “too big to fail”.)

ristorante alice – bologna

August 18, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

One of the main reasons we flew into and out of Bologna was because we wanted to eat at Ristorante Alice. We had eaten here three/four years ago and really liked it, so we were determined to get back to it. (I kept reminding Rose that the restaurant may not be there. After all, our favorite enoteca was gone. We resigned ourselves to that loss and had a glass of Sangiovese at a tourist joint.)

The things we remembered about ristorante alice were the antipasti, the wheel of cheese, and the pasta. Rose had kept the phone number, so I called and made reservations for 8:00. (Italians are just getting dressed to go out at 8:00, we were at the restaurant ready to eat. Whenever we go out to dinner, we are always the first to arrive.)

The restaurant is in the old city – via d’Azeglio – and its outside tables are under one of Bologna’s many porticos. The streets of the old city are lined with these beautiful and practical overhangs. Some are plain and some decorated with frescoes. However, all keep the sun off your head and the rain off your clothes. (In the area of town with Bulgari, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Armani, the porticoes are covered with frescoes.)

We began with the antipasti and the waiter brought out three – grilled zucchini, eggplant, and chick-peas in a balsamic reduction. We just kept smacking out lips and I complained about there being only three. Rose told me to just hold on and the rest would come out slowly. And they did. There was grilled zucchini, buffalo mozzarella, chickpeas in a balsamic reduction, grilled eggplant, roasted peppers, cabbage, dry sausage and prosciutto, roasted turkey with potato dumplings, Borlotti beans with tomatoes, and frittata topped with tomato sauce. We then decided to have a primi piatti, Derrick and I ordered the home-made fettuccini with porcini mushrooms. Rose ordered the ziti with a tomato sauce. She complained about the fact that once again she had missed out on getting the really good pasta. And she had. (The problem was that it was way too much food. I’m not used to eating three full meals a day. One thing about going home is that I will be able to get back to a more restrained eating regiment.)

dream about the days to come

August 19, 2012 diario/journal, le marche

last entry – le marche 2012

The read this series in chronological order,
click on the category title – le Marche-12 – on the right.

I’ve always wanted to steal lines from John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane and I finally got the opportunity. (I took the shot from the scaffolding covering the front of the Bologna cathedral.)

At 4:30 in the morning even the tourist-packed, under-renovation airport in Bologna is empty. I was the second person through security.

The story of the return trip happened at the airport in Frankfurt. I was one of the first to board the US Airways flight to Philadelphia, so I’m sitting there across the tarmac from an EL AL plane. The entire ground around the plane was roped off and there was a police vehicle at each corner and an armed guard patrolling the perimeter. (The guard had an Uzi strapped across his chest.) Any airport worker coming into the roped-off area was frisked with a metal detector; the perimeter was so secure nothing was allowed to breach it without a full body inspection. There were two layers of security that workers had to maneuver around – the outside layer with the police cars and guards, the inner layer with about 10 supervisors. The police and guards kept people from coming in, the supervisors managed anyone inside the security zone. I don’t know if this is standard-operating-procedure for any and all EL AL planes, or if this only happens in Germany. (I’ve never been on the tarmac next to an Israeli plane before.) I watched for almost 45 minutes and all movements were scrutinized and recorded. Yes, the supervisors had clip boards and made marks every 10/15 minutes.

The trip home, compared to the trip there, was uneventful. (My conclusion is don’t book a trip that has me going through three different airports.)