Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Posts Tagged ‘Panicale

Roman Festival Brightens Umbrian Hillside

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“Why not drop around on Sunday,” Riccardo suggested, “We’ll have a few artichokes.”

The retired Alitalia pilot was our landlord when we arrived in Panicale, a medieval central-Italy castle-town. He and his wife, Mariolina, were friends when we left.

This fortress overlooks Lake Trasemino, the peninsula’s fourth largest lake, to the north, the manicured Tuscan countryside to the west, and the rolling Umbrian hills to the south and east. This body of water still soaks some 25,000 thousand Roman soldiers drowned here by Hannibal more than 2,000 years ago.

Our landlords opted out of big-city living in Rome several years ago and occupied our spacious apartment while they built a picture-book home in a hill-clinging olive grove just below the town’s centuries-old walls.

“I bought this apartment because when I look out that (living room) window, that’s Umbria,” he said.

The Umbria you see is the reddish-yellow brick-and-rock front of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel (one of seven churches in this village) leaning on a restaurant by an archway that frames the main piazza with its 500-year-old fountain and bars, hair salons, stationery and gift shops, and small groups of standing and sitting locals sorting out the various problems of the day.

We knew we were in for something special as we approached the lane sloping into their farmyard. It was like breaking into an opera.

About three dozen people wearing the full array of bright yellows, reds, greens – pick a color – were milling about chittering, chattering, and chanting in that Italian sing song from which arias emerge. The accompaniment was provided by Riccardo’s tractor as it hauled dead olive branches to a pile resembling a titanic tumbleweed.

“You don’t work, you don’t eat,” was Mariolina’s mandate.

Our immediate chore was to gather mint leaves off the plant stems and chop the stocks off the artichokes – shopping-cart-sized mounds of them. Then the mint leaves were minced with garlic and olive oil. The artichoke are given a good slam on the ground to soften them so their hearts centers can be opened up and crammed with the mint-leave-garlic-oil mixture.

Through all this, you had to balance wine with oil-soaked bread, cheese, fresh fava beans, and more wine before the fire is ready.

It was at this point that Mariolina explained these artichoke afternoons are a traditional Roman ritual because the plant originates in the region south of the capital.

The giant pile of shrubbery is burned and the ashes raked into a flat lava-like bed of coals.

Then you have to tuck your artichoke into the coals to cook. You only get to eat the one you cooked.

Again, the operatic metaphor arose as each person displayed a distinctive dance pirouetting around the blistering mound. It takes about 45 minutes for the artichokes to cook in this manner, which gave everyone time to sample more wine with the sausages and pork barbecued on a fire fed with larger chunks of trimmed olive wood.

Then flowed the desserts, all of them home-made.

This operatic event marked the end of our five week stay that included jaunts to the nearby cities and towns that dot our imaginations and the Italian landscape – Assisi, Siena, Orvieto, Cortona, Spello, Perugia, all within an hour’s drive of here – and Rome, Florence, and Pisa, each a couple of hours away.

But we also took a harder look out our window. There it was Panicale. Umbria. Italy.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 4, 2021 at 5:00 am


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Drove to dentist this morning. Little Nissan started right up on first key application after sitting under cover for the past 10 weeks. Bev’s Toyota started fine, too. I discovered I prefer driving in Italy. Motorists there are much more aware of what’s happening around them than the folks here, more and more of whom are oblivious to the world outside their container of tin and plastic. And as Bev and I sat in the house with the wind pelting rain at us, we found there’s more to do in the rain in the village of Panicale than there is here. There, we can pop open the umbrella and. all within a three-minute walk, stop by Aldo’s for cappuccino, or Masolino’s for espresso or lunch, or Linda’s for some groceries and gossip, or Iolande’s for some fruit and conversation, or the tabacchi for a chat and some Internet time, or the bakery for some fresh rolls, or church to light a candle, or the bank ATM for some cash, or get a haircut. If that’s not enough, it’s but a short drive to another fine restaurant in Paciano (4 km) and an excellent bakery/coffee shop in Tavernelle (6 km).

Written by Cecil Scaglione

January 18, 2010 at 4:35 pm

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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

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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

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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

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“Take a week and visit Sicily,” everyone tells us. “ You have to see Palermo. Drive around the island and stop wherever you wish. The food is good.” We sorta agree that’s next time. U-T oldtimer Frank Saldana has visited the island a few times and he loves it. Any time of year is fine because of the climate but Mariolina said she likes February best because the blooming almond trees cover the hills with color.

Packing Them in in Panicale

Oil festival weekend of Nov. 21 – 22 was touted as a “gastronomic experience” of new wine and olive oil of the region. There are those who say, without argument or declamatory tones, that Trasimeno olive oil is the best in the country. You have to keep in mind that everything here is a festival. Bologna even had a Festival for Festivals, sorta leaving you with the feeling that, if there isn’t a reason for a festival, we’ll have one anyway. It brings in the booths and the tourists and the dollars. This little village has transformed itself into a tourist-dollar magnet. Prices are aimed at the transient, not the local. Friday’s weekly market was about half the size of those recalled from the past. And most of the ex-pats, from Europe as well as U.S., head home for the winter.

Met Santa Claus

Ran into entrepreneur Bobbie (a Swedish ex-pat whose last name I forget) in the piazza this morning (Nov. 19). We chatted for about half an hour until his wife, Ann, came to retrieve him. He’s growing a beard to be Santa Claus Dec. 24 for the kids of the village.


Wot a trip! Simone met us at the station, introduced us to his friends – sculptor/artist Dario Correale, girlfriend Maria, their roommate Tulia, and acrylic painter Rosario – who showed us the real Naples after we walked to and into some of the sites after a 90-minute hop-on/hop-off bus tour around this metropolis built at the foot of Vesuvius: “Christ in the Veil,” Santa Lucia, Little Calcutta, Piazza Plebescito, Palazzo Reale, Parque Virgiliano, Pozzuolo e Camu. The last is a 3,000+-year-old archeological site that few folks visit. We walked thru a long tunnel/warehouse to the Apollo sybill’s niche and then climbed to the acropolis to walk around the Temple of Apollo and, at the top, the Temple of Jove, with a magnificent view of the Med shore, and the islands of Proscida and Ischia. Ruins not as impressive as others but quiet and easier to visit. It was where the Greeks established their first sites for vacation homes on the Italian peninsula and founded Naples later. Harness racers were putting their horses thru their paces on the beach while we were enjoying the vista.

And we supped and sipped our way thru pizza margharita, birra Moretti, lemoncello, grappa, spaghetti and clams, fried pumpkin blossoms, fried shrimp, fried mozzarella, fried pasta cakes, mozzarella napolitana, mussels, lagostina, Dario’s parents gave us cookies and grappa and lemoncello and mandarino and, to take with us, a bottle of lemoncello and two bottles of home-made red wine for my birthday.

Four-hour train ride (26 euros each) got us home shortly after midnight tired and happy, in need of a shower and happy, a bit sad we left but happy we went.

Rain Routine

Our first rainy day here was almost welcome. It gave us a chance to rest, especially since we were invited to, and accepted, an invitation for cake – it was a gorgeous-looking and tasty chestnut cake with layers of meringue and cream that looked like a lady’s expensive hat — and cards with Riccardo and Mariolina. Invite was for 9 p.m. and we stayed until after midnight.

The wet weather cut down the size and time of the weekly Friday market in the piazza. It also gave Carla, who takes care of the church (Chiesi de San Michel) the opportunity to wash her car. She sweeps off the muck and mud  with a broom.

Downpour also prevented Simone (Aldo’s son) from putting out and plugging in the all-red-light Christmas tree in front of his osteria — Il Gallo del ????

We spent most of the day reading and napping and eating and napping and reading and napping.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm

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Tipping Tip

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Had a great meal of spaghetti alla carbonara e coda (oxtail) at family owned and operated Locanda di Marcanzia in Castiglione di Lago Tuesday night. Bill was 21 euros each. We just divvied total five ways – Bev, Barb, Mariolina, Riccardo and me – regardless of who had what. Then Riccardo explained you don’t tip the owner. When you tip help, it’s loose change . No tips reach 5 percent anywhere in Italy. So I can start saving a few euros here and there.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 19, 2009 at 5:27 am

Still Catching Up

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Got our porchette (salty roast-pork sandwiches) Monday morning at the Tavernelle market, picked up some victuals and then over to Riccardo’s for cards — scoppone – all p.m. He gave me his WEP for wi-fi connection and finally got a chance to clean out e-mail but no time to get to bloggin’ and respondin’. Gonna do that.a.s.a.p. Did pick up on latest gossip about Riccardo-Mariolina split from Margaret Leon on Sunday and Riccardo Monday. Poked our heads into the osteria opened by Aldo’s son in the apartment we stayed in our first time here. Prices are outrageous. As are the prices at Aldo’s. Tatin restaurants open Tuesday – the one on the hill at the edge of the piazza and the former French café they bought recently on the piazza – but their prices are also over the top. Based on seeing non-Panicalese milling about the piazza and staring at the church and their discussions between oohing and aaahing, I opined that Aldo and the rest of the town are aiming their business at the tourists, with tourist prices. Riccardo agreed. “No one from Panicale goes there any more.” The wintertime card tournaments Aldo used to stage at his Bar Gallo to not only maintain his business but to keep the town entertained are a thing of the past.  There is a drop in rentals and the bulk of folks returning to the castle are from Australia and New Zealand.

Riccardo knew we were going to Rome at some time so he gave me something I can wear in Rome – a laurel wreath. Heh!

Weather’s been mild and gentle so far and today was gorgeous featuring Il sol d’Italia feasting on the Umbrian colors.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 19, 2009 at 5:23 am

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Bologna Bit

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Bologna Airport is small and busy but customs and immigration weren’t open. Got into Hotel Mercure about  22:30. Cab driver said it would cost about 16 or 17 euros. The meter read 13.40, so we gave him 18. Had a note from Barbara in 448. Our room was 412 for 65 euros a night. The rate card above the desk said double rooms cost 160 euros a night. We got the internet rate. Bev and Barb not impressed with Bologna; people not as friendly as Panicale, and Rome, etc. Food’s good, tho. Prices have gone up in this country. Bologna is expensive and we saw higher prices in Panicale, too.

Picked up our rental. We asked for a compact and they upgraded us. That’s all they had. Good for us because of all the freakin’ luggage. No problems on streets and roads. Italians drive like I do. : “Get the f— outta the way.”

Left the hotel at 11 and, after some rain, fog, a couple of dozen tunnels through the Appenines, a coffee stop, and picking up some essential groceries, we walked into Aldo’s bar at 14:30. Don’t know how the heck we’re going to make it back to our hotel when we go back to Bologna. Aldo’s barista Camilla called Riccardo and Mariolina came to the bar. Had coffee and emptied car and headed to Riccardo’s for wine and chat. And met his son Lucca. Both M and R look peaked and worn. They’ve had a bad year. One of their long-time dogs died in their car and Riccardo broke his hip and is still on crutches. And, when you stand back and look, there’s more but we’ll have to wait and let the tale unfold.

Headed for Maselino’s for dinner BUT THE PLACE IS CLOSED – until Dec. 3.  Bev’s initial prod to come was to celebrate the restaurant’s 50th anniversary Nov. 20, my birthday, Christmas, New Year’s, and Little Christmas (Jan. 6).. We learned just before we came that Maselino’s is going to celebrate in the spring, “when there are more people.” And Bev also had planned to have a nice dinner there on my birthday Dec. 2. So we had some great cold cuts at Aldo’s. At a great price – 45 euros. If someone charged us that in PB for cold cuts, we’d call the cops. Got to Chiusi station at noon Sunday and checked times to and from Naples. It’s about a 4 hr train trip and round trip costs about 59 euros. Don’t save money with roundtrip ticket so buy one way and pick your train. Think we’ll go next Sunday because parking lot looked like it had plenty of spaces today. To Margaret Leon’s in Paciano, after lunch at La Brucciatta l’Oca, and delivered her peanut butter and voltage converter.  She had a “pre-holiday” sale of her photos and we met some of the local ex-pats. Interesting people but not the type who would enjoy a beer with me – and, more importantly, vice versa. MTK….

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 17, 2009 at 6:24 am

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