Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for December 2009

Spello Still Spellinding

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Even on a rainy wintry day, “Spello is still a pretty town,” said Jean. And it’s easier to get around since it isn’t packed with tourists. We climbed up to a shop that features – what else? – olive wood products. She bought a rosary, similar to the one I had blessed by a couple of old friends – retired monsignors – last fall in a visit/reunion in our Northern Ontario home town.

When we got back to the village, we bumped into the tail end of Bobbie’s funeral, the man who died Christmas Eve morning  just hours before he was to play Santa Claus/Babbo Natale for the children. As the white hearse drifted away from the front of the church below our window, the crowd applauded as Bobbie exited left life’s earthly stage. The more cynical onlookers had their own explanation for the hand-clapping.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 29, 2009 at 6:06 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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The Day Santa Died

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It was Christmas Eve. We got to the butcher and picked up our gallantina for Christmas Eve and lasagna for Christmas dinner. Gallantina is a local tradition – a chicken is de-boned and stuffed with everything from prosciutto to pistascios and hard-boiled eggs to eggplant and then pressed and cooked, sliced and eaten cold. Got chores done in way home – bank ATM, started the car, checked out last-minute grocery list as a warm sirocco-like but  humid wind moved in and made the town almost summery.  Lou dropped by for a grappa and headed home for a shower. Riccardo dropped by and said he’d skip tonight because he won’t be able to find a parking space because of midnight mass at the church. Then we found out. “Bobbie died,” he said

Bobbie Natale, the true Santa from Sweden, died while walking his dog this morning. Santa died. The whole world had to be told. Headed down to the piazza with Lou following to scout out the facts. We ran into Simone’s wife and Lou got our foto and she told us “Babbo Natale e morta.” I asked if they found an alternate and she nodded her head and said, “Qualqu’ uno” (somebody).

I asked if her osteria’s Christmas Eve dinner (E30) was full and she said no, they didn’t start planning/advertising early enough. I said they’ll start earlier next year and she nodded yes.

Then she said Santa was due to land on the piazza at 3:30 so we came back to the apartment and sipped a few until it was time to return to the piazza. It was still warm and humid. And it started to drizzle on the dozen or so kids and their parents in the piazza. So the small trope moved into club rooms below the street level across the alley from the osteria. Guillermo said the club room was made available after it started to rain. Santa and his jingling sled were greeted about 4:20 by applauding parents and wide-eyed children. And everyone got something. Even adults received little packages of candy from each of the kids.

But no one seemed to miss Bobbie.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 25, 2009 at 5:13 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Sampling Arezzo’s Stops and Streets

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Driving through the alleys and around the pedestrians of Arezzo has prepared me for taking the car back to the rental agency in Bologna when we wrap up this trip.

Many of the folks from around here, when they don’t head for Rome, do their “major’ shopping in Arezzo, a sizeable medieval town an hour to 90 minutes north of here, depending what road you take. One of its shopping attractions is an extensive array of antique furniture.

Our jaunt was impromptu; we were heading to a shop just the other side of Castiglione del Lago a dozen kilometers up the road. Arezzo’s another 35 kilometers farther, 20 kilometers past the gleaming hillside town of Cortona, so we decided to re-visit the place we hadn’t been to for eight years.

On that last visit, we took the Roma-Firenze toll road and rolled into a parking lot behind the duomo perched atop the hill overlooking the city. We photographed the park there and strolled down the hill several blocks and found a great restaurant – Il Saraceno – where I had rabbit while watching a gentleman at the next table wolf down two kilos of steak. That’s how they sold it on the menu – by the kilo.

This time, we were on the local road forming lines behind large lorries and didn’t get to the hill overlooking the city.

We didn’t even get out of the car. I did for a few minutes. After spending about half an hour brushing pedestrians aside, dodging motorbikes, slamming brakes to avoid rear-ending other vehicles, squeezing up against parked vehicles to avoid moving vehicles, standing in traffic-signaled lines several times for several minutes each time, I ducked into a temporary parking space and asked a young couple how to reach the parcheggio behind the church. They said go two corners (they don’t use blocks in Italy because short blocks, curved streets and roundabouts make that standard confusing if not downright useless) and turn right, another two corners and turn right, and then to the second semafora (traffic light) and turn right again and head straight up the hill to the church. After another session of aiming the car away from amblers and autos, we wound up exactly where I’d talked with the young couple. So we tried it again and was squeezed onto a roundabout that looked like it would lead us out of town, I drove around the block again, suggested we give it up and got back to the roundabout that got us onto a main artery – the first one we saywhere – that took us to the Roma-Firenze A1 and headed back. Return trip took half the time and the toll was only 3 euros.

(Nonths later, I got  mail saying the rental-car company had taken another $70 out of my credit-card account for providng the Arrezzo police with information about my rental agreement and then tickets from the Arrezzo police department — the service was outsourced — with fotos of my two transgressions within 15 minutes of each other and which I still hav no idea about. But they said I owed them  a total of $190 U.S. for the two infractions. I just paid to get rid of the crap. That was an expensive visit.)

We left at 10:45 and got back about 2:30 in time for pranza at Masolino’s – an almost-four-hour car ride. We did get to see Arezzo’s shops and sample its streets.

Snow Storm

Snow flakes did their stunts outside our window all night and most of today (Dec. 19) and piled onto parked cars and piazzas. They also clustered into sheets of ice so walking around the village was treacherous – you walked around its edges to avoid the slippery slopes and slants.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 21, 2009 at 7:05 am

Quick ‘Qwake

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Had a simple terremoto (earthquake) in Panicale on Wednesday, shortly after 2 p.m. Its center was in Mangione, across the lake where we had lunch Sunday. Enough of a scare that schools were closed but, to us Californians, it was a simple little ride.

‘Quakes here are rare. There are more a bit farther north and farther south, but no one around here likes them very much.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 18, 2009 at 11:57 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Buon Natale

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Wishing everyone a comfortable Christmas with family and friends. Will be reporting more on what folks do  here in Panicale. Already being swallowed by some traditions. Festive family fun…

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 18, 2009 at 11:53 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Love Travel, Hate Traveling

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The thought that we’re heading home in four weeks – we’ve been gone a little more than five weeks – not only underscores how rapidly time disappears down the black hole of time, it includes thoroughly uncomfortable images of the physical act of “getting there” and “getting home:” maneuvering the rental car through Bologna traffic back to its stall, manhandling luggage through four airports – Bologna, Gatwick, Las Vegas and San Diego (we also have to change planes in Phoenix but at least our bags get checked thru) — dressing and undressing for security checks, and scrunching in crammed tubes for several hours.

Why isn’t our luggage checked all the way through? We made our own travel arrangements online and, as a result, each leg is a separate transaction. By shopping and buying our own tickets, we saved more than one-third the total ticket cost.

As it stands, Brit Air already has cancelled and re-sked our Bologna-Gatwick leg. We’d planned leaving Bologna in the morning and spending a pleasant day re-visiting Crawley, the British village we’ve hung around about a dozen times on our European jaunts. BA canceled the morning flight and we leave Bologna at 4 p.m., get into our Crawley hotel about 6 p.m. and have time only for a quiet dinnerand fair night’s sleep before heading back to Gatwick the next morning.

It just occurred to us that we’ve never had a satisfying experience with British Air. They’re courteous and polite, but they’re also bureaucratic and unpredictable. We’ve flown them more than a half dozen times and, in each case, they’ve re-scheduled at least one leg of our flight.

When they had a direct San Diego – Gatwick, flight, they re-scheduled our flight back home to a day later. We fortunately had arranged a couple of layover days in Crawley and checked Brit Air before we left the airport for our hotel. Their only response when we complained was, “We called your travel agent to notify you.” When we told them there was no travel agent, we made our own arrangements, there was only silence. As it turned out, our plane was lightly loaded so we each had a row of three seats to ourselves. In a follow-up letter to Brit Air, I told them I understood why they have so many empty seats.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 18, 2009 at 8:46 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Language Lesson

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Sorting through the array of cheeses sitting around shops here is daunting enough without the added confusion of Italian descriptions. Many of them look alike and have almost the same texture and similar taste, so you have to pore over the labels, just as you must do with the labels arrayed on the shelves. I asked a lady behind the cheese-and-cold-cuts counter at Eurospar (a chain of mid-sized supermarkets) in the nearby hamlet of Pineta where in the big bank of cheeses I could find something with a strong rather than delicate taste. “Ahhh, piccante,” she said and rummaged through several mounds. She came up with a half dozen fist-sized samples and I asked “Sono tutti pecarino? (Are they all sheep cheese?)” She shook her head and showed me a couple that were “moo-moo, baa-baa, misto.” – a mixture of sheep and cow’s milk. Now I know how to ask for a combined cheese – moo-moo, baa-baa.

Magione Meal

The antipasto plate in Al Coccia not only is more than enough to give anyone a true taste of local food, it’s more than enough for your appetite: four kinds of cold meats, eggplant doused in olive oil, cheese and rosemary focaccio, mushrooms doused in olive oil, two kinds of bruschetti – tomato and pate, faggioli (white beans) doused in olive oil, and a couple of chunks of pecorino cheese. I added a dish of tagliatelli with meat sauce to all this and washed it all down with a cold Moretti beer.

 The restaurant is run by Marco, a shaved-headed bundle of nervous energy who’s a friend of Andréa Belfico at Masolino’s. It’s at the entrance to Mangione, a sizeable hilltop town at the opposite (northeast) corner of the lake from Panicale. To make our Trasimeno tour more complete, we headed west to Passagnano for a gelato, the kind I like with a texture that still “peaks” when it’s pulled – more body than a Dairy Queen but much silkier than regular ice cream.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 14, 2009 at 4:30 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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Rome’s Ready

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 A Christmas carnival in Piazza Navone is just that – a carnival, complete with carousel, carney games (“A Win Every Time”), knick-knack booths, balloons dancing with the wind, and hot and cold food, classes of kids marshaled around by nuns, litters of tourists marshaled around by a guys and gals waving them on with numbered signs, and dueling guitarists. All this counterpointing the ageless statues and churches that form the walls of this canyon in The Eternal City.

I quickly snagged a cimballi calde (hot doughnut) to hold me until lunch. A cimballi is a Roman doughnut about the size of a small pizza and can be eaten plain, sprinkled with sugar or covered with nutella (a chocolate-hazelnut butter spread popular here). I hadn’t had one since one of the officers aboard our freighter cooked a batch one morning. The dough is much tastier than the U.S. donut, it’s deep-fried but as flat as a pizza, has a less fatty texture and doesn’t curl up into gut-busting balls to play havoc with your digestive processes and system.

We went to Rome the day after the high season opened Dec. 8. It closes Jan. 6. Both days are national holidays here. The first is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; the closing date is Epiphany, also known as Little Christmas in most quarters.

For our first stop, we arrived at my favorite optometric shop on Via Nazionale just as the owner was unlocking  his exterior display boxes and I bought a couple of pairs of sunglasses. They’re about one-fifth the price of expensive sold under such American trade names as RayBan,Foster Grant, etc., which are amde by these same Italians. Bev got an eyeglass frame to take home.

After strolling into and by the ritzy boutiques stretching from the Spanish steps to the Trevi Fountain — and picking up a gelato across from the fountain at one of the finest gelateria in the universe —  we went into the Pantheon for the first time. It’s now a basilica with Mass offered every Saturday and Sunday, although it’s closed Christmas Day. The sun was bouncing off Roman roofs so we didn’t have to worry about rain falling in through the hole in the massive copula that also lets light pour into the building, the only one to survive in its entirety since Roman times.

After lunch at my favorite eating spot – Melo’s, a Sicilian ristorante on the steps leading down from the bottom of  Via Nazionale to il Vittoriano and the Forum – we decided to take an earlier train back home instead of hanging around into the evening  We were tired.

The sun was rising as our train pulled out of Chiusi and it was setting as we rolled out of Roma Termini.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 10, 2009 at 3:05 am

Posted in Italy, Travel

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Hannibal Lecture

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That pun’s intended, folks.  The Battle of Trasimene is largely ignored by modern-day Italians because it was where Hannibal slaughtered in ambush several thousand – the number ranges from 15,000 to 50,000 – Romans by shoving them into Lake Trasimeno and drowning most of them. There’s a broad plain off the northwestern shore of the lake where the Roman’s camped as they tailed Hannibal, who looked like he was heading into the jaws of another Roman troupe marching from Rimini in the east. Instead, and what made this battle important in military history, the Punic general surveyed the field he chose to use to his advantage rather than using the history honored practice of challenging the enemy and then rushing at it with all your might. He stretched his army – this number varies, too, but it was about 12,000 — which included a contingent of Celts who eventually killed the Roman leader — over a half dozen kilometers of high ground ringing the northern edge of the lake and watched silently while the Romans tromped along the shoreline right into the Carthaginian’s trap. Archeologists are still picking human bones out of the lake. An interesting historical sidelight for such a little spot, but there are several such episodes from this region where Tuscany and Umbria bump into each other that date back to the Etruscans. For example, Panicale was the first community in central Italy to be given official status because it was never – not ever — defeated by any attackers. It was too high, too well fortified and too self-sufficient with its own animals within the walls and its own big bubble of water. This castle became an important stopover for popes and nobles traveling between Rome and Florence.

 Roamin’ in Rome

Gonna return to Rome this week when cleaning lady attacks our apartment. There’s a little optical shop on Via Nazionale where I got a cool pair of Italian sunglasses a couple of years ago. Ray Bans are made in Italy and a similar pair without the trademark costs about a fifth the price..

Portal Problems

Doors are half size around here. When you see a door, don’t expect it to open fully. Only half of it opens. This isn’t a problem in modern shops that have the automatically opening and closing variety, but it takes some slimming and sidestepping to enter and exit homes and bars and gelateria and butcher shops. And if you’re burdened with packages of salami and cereals and stuff, getting out of the store can be an adventure because you have to protect the freight from bag rips and other mishaps.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 7, 2009 at 6:19 am

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Here’s More

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Clearer and Colder

Winter cold hit today – Dec. 1 — after yesterday’s heavy rain dumped here by a warm south wind.

After lunch of a makeshift salad of tomatoes, ham, seafood salad, artichoke hearts, and salame finished off with a beer, I went for a two-beer hike thru the town and up cemetery hill. The cemetery is up there but the hill can kill you. Went by the gravestones and got some good shots of Tuscany and Umbria and Lake Trasimeno and Panicale and Castiglione del Lago and Tavernelle.

Hill and hot sun gave me a good sweat in the high cold, clear air and I think I lost about four pounds somewhere on that road. If I hike that hill every day, I’ll be able to leave all my clothes here and acquire a new wardrobe when I get home.

There’s More Moretti

Been buying a liter of Moretti beer, my favorite here, for E.79 a bottle, a promo price about half the regular shelf price in some stores. Italian beer is like good German lager and the two main labels are Moretti and Peroni, which also makes Nastro Azzurro (Blue Ribbon).

Plenty of Persimmons

Persimmon trees scramble all over these hills. There’s a regal one reigning over Jurgen Heiss’ moat garden that towers over the road on the south side of the castle. They lose all their leaves and the persimmons are left hanging on bare branches like apricot-colored Christmas bulbs. They aren’t persimmon-colored because they aren’t ripe. They just languish there because there are so many at once, yet they’re still sold in the markets, and the lowest price I’ve seen is 3.50 euros a kilo, which gives you maybe three.

Mariolina snapped several twigs with more than a dozen fruit off her tree for us and we stored them atop the fridge. They ripen very slowly but “if you want them to get ripe more quickly,” Riccardo said “put them in a bag with an apple.” Mariolina added that they don’t taste as good when they ripen on the tree. “They are not as sweet,” she said. They’re ripe when they feel heavy and semi-soggy, like a slightly over-ripe tomato.

They’re about the size of your fist and one makes a great breakfast. Cut it in quarters, cut each quarter in half or three, whatever, and then you have a plateful of little orange-colored oysters. If it’s too ripe, you’ll have a plateful of little orange jellyfish.

Birthday at Masolino’s

Was 75 yesterday (Dec. 2) and that coincided with re-opening, after month-long vacation hiatus, of Masolino’s restaurant – our favorite in this town of Tuscany-tourist-touted high-end-chef’s restaurants  – Lallo Tatin’s, Boldrino’s, and Osterio Il Gallo nel Pozzo. The Belfico family has operated it for 50 years, and Andrea Belfico said, instead of observing the anniversary on its proper date – Nov. 19 – they’re going to celebrate it in the spring, “when there are more people.” Andrea and his family live in the apartment immediately to our left so we’d already chatted a few times. He told Bev that he’d re-open on an auspicious day in Scaglione history. Mama Bruna Belfico and daughter Stefania, Andrea’s sister, were happy to see us and made a comfortable to-do about our return to Panicale for the half-dozenth time. Stefania made one of her great desserts – a cream-and-peach cake with a candle atop. And Andrea tossed in a bottle of champagne. A scoppone session with Riccardo and Mariolina Ripanti, who joined us for dinner, wrapped up the evening. They also gave me a couple of Panicale momento photo books in Italian.

Mountain Man

Walked up the cemetery hill again, this time to where cars can no longer climb and the “road’ becomes a series of rocks and rills. Climbed above the clouds: Tuscan and Ubrian lowlands were packed with cotton batting as far as the eye could reach, from Cortona to Chiusi to Perugia to Orvieto, with only a hill here and there shouldering its way through the fog. And far off to the east, glistening in the sun, are the snow-covered Appenines.

Some portions are like walking on a steep roof. If you slip or trip, you’re going to roll, fall or slide quite a bit before stopping.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 4, 2009 at 8:39 am

Posted in Europe, Travel

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