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Nov 26, 2006

Montepulciano


Shameless...Andrea is part of the reason Anne and I enjoyed staying at La Casetta in Montepulciano. His mom, Pina, is a gem, a wonderful hospitable woman with a flair for decor and the ability to make one feel like royalty. She made the apartment feel like a home away from home and came by every so often to bring us something she had made that day....biscotti, pasta, jam, wine, olive oil....the lady is amazing. And she is warm and welcoming, a language that is understood worldwide. Pina, does not speak any english, but she got her message across; we were to have a relaxing and pampered vacation.




Their webpage is all in Italian, but you get the idea from their photos how lovely and welcoming it is. Andrea will be the person to call if you want to make a reservation as he speaks english. I highly recommend this place to everyone.






To get an idea of what it is like to have an olive orchard, I helped Pina and her brother in law, Moreno, pick olives. Pina took me to her brother's
house (also lives in the area) where he makes the olive oil. Fascinating thing...making olive oil. The hardest part for small owners, is the picking of the olives...the rest is all machine. I think I need to go back there about the time they are picking grapes. By the way, fresh olives taste really good too.


You have to notice Pina's home. I loved every nook and cranny...I wonder if she can adopt me. I want another house to make look as beautiful as she made hers....it would be better yet, if the house were here also, eh? Oh, and for someone who isn't too fond of cooking...I now know how to make pasta from scratch. I don't know if I will ever put that knowledge into practice again....
Needless to say...sad to leave this wonderful place.


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Nov 3, 2006

Anne and Francesco

“You have to believe….” Francesco to Anne

Today we left the mainland and headed over to Sicilia via the ferry. No bridge yet. We left from San Giovanni and set foot upon Sicilian ground at Messina. A couple hours later, we were in Cefalu, looking for food and for a place to stay. We stopped at a real estate agent’s office and asked about apartments. There were several in the center and a villa on the outskirts. Neither Anne nor I are excited about city life so we chose to see what the villa was like.

The gates opened and we drove the gravel path, through slightly overgrown olive orchards and orange trees. We stepped onto red brick terrace that housed a huge wooden table and chairs that was even more inviting with the warm wind that rustled the leaves.
The kitchen was bright and modern and a much needed laundry was next to it. There were four bedrooms and two baths and two of the bedrooms upstairs opened onto a large open terrace with a view of the ocean in the near distance.

Anne had charmed everything but the pants off the agent who showed us the villa.

Francesco is a tall, sun-kissed full fledged Sicilian; his family has lived in Sicily for generations. He arrived on his silver and black Yamaha scooter and we had followed him to the villa to see if it would suit our purposes. It was funny watching him drive his scooter, pull out the cell phone, call someone and then, while holding the phone with his left hand, start making those famous Italian gestures, with his right!

Francesco has something for fair skinned, light eyed beauties having dated a Swede and now a German babe. So it is no surprise that he was taken with Anne.

If he asked a question, he asked Anne; when he handed the key over, he gave it to Anne; when he talked about his country, he looked at Anne. And when he left he gave Anne the instructions on how to get the gate closed behind him again.

In the shallow patio light, we watched him get put his helmet on as he prepared to leave. If he thought I couldn’t see him, he was wrong…As he swung the bike around, I watched him give a long look at Anne who was trying to figure out the remote to the gate. Then he caught me watching him and went back to being the Francesco who was making sure we were comfortable. He stopped next to Anne, who was poking every button that could be pushed. Still nothing. Francesco reached over as he took it from her hands and said in his wonderful Italian-tinged English as he teased her, “You know, you must believe…for it to open.”

I have no doubt it is because of his fascination with Anne that he villa was rented to us so cheaply… Euro 60/night. We could not believe our luck to run across this gem like this.

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Feeling Sicily


“…to have seen Italy without seeing Sicily, is not to have seen Italy at all – for Sicily is the key to everything” …. Goethe


If it were possible to have a love affair with an island, I will have one with Sicily. I love, Love, LOve, LOVE this place. Sicily to me is earthy and sensual, an embracing warmth that comes from country and people and it reached out and fed me. It had unusually sunny October days, the hot wind from the Sahara making it even more inviting and lazy. The warmth begs me to lie down and take it easy…slow down and enjoy the moment. And I do.

It has fed me good food…Sicilian spiced food served in a local trattoria with tall, dark haired men, unshaven but finely suited sitting at the adjoining table, eyes hidden behind expensive shades (in Corleone of all places)…or at the villa, pecorino cheese and tomatoes on crostini, rubbed with raw garlic, Anne’s lentils, proscuitto crudo and lots of delicious persimmons.



My body settles into the seat of the car, muscles tensing and relaxing keeping me in place as we round every curve, pass another car or just fly down one of the rare straight stretches. This island is pure heaven for me. My arms fly one over the other to steer to the right and then immediately to the left. The road is exhilarating; the landscape picturesque, but I see only portions of it as my eyes remain fixed to the road, enjoying every mile that we eat up.

I miss the details, but the overall scene has been that of wildness…stark, bare rock jutting out of brown earth, covered sparsely with trees that adapt to the dry inland weather; and that of lush green…the land cultivated to produce wine and olives, or produce. It is like a patchwork quilt, some dark green, others light; some dark brown with freshly turned soil; or those faded to a light brown from an unrelenting sun. We go through hills and valleys, stunned by a large outcropping of resistant rock and then wowed by rounded hills of a valley beneath us.

The land is dotted with specks of white…sheep leisurely grazing among the patches of rock. Cows enjoy their pasture as much as the horses roam freely on theirs. And we were treated to a flock of goats being herded down a country road by their shepherd seated on his chestnut horse.

We’ve walked through old towns, mostly untouched by tourism and watch people in their everyday lives. This is what I want… what I enjoy seeing. This is what I call Italy. Sicilians are people with very little personal space. At no other market have I been elbowed, pushed against, and bumped into as much as here. They touch each other frequently in friendly conversation, and I enjoy seeing so many men greet each other with the kiss to each cheek. I love it. Men of all ages gather at their favorite bar, settle in one of the many (horrid) white plastic chairs on the pavement or patio and slowly take in the world as it goes by. They seem different than anywhere else and I think that the sun….washing everything in its white heat, makes it seem that time sluggishly ticks by.

Maybe it is warm, but Sicilians are not wanting for fashion. Women all wear boots that seem to be the rage right now….in 33C weather. Nowhere else have I seen the men wearing the berets that I like - they wear them here and they look marvelous…over grey suits in mid afternoon, or with work-worn overalls nursing their tractor down the road.

Best of all, the people here are lovely. They are beautiful and they laugh a lot. It must be the sunshine. We have only visited the smaller towns, but nowhere have I run across unruly, discourteous, rude, vulgar or impertinent men. On the contrary, they have been courteous, and friendly and offer help without being asked. These are people who are interested in people and I find myself completely pleased to have my preconception shattered.
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Isle of Capri


I knew better but I still came. This little island off the Sorrentino coast is a regular tourist trap. The place, even in the off season is swarming with Americans, English, Dutch, Japanese…where are the Italians?

The hydrofoil let us off at the marina and we took the funicular up to the old center. There was a heart stopping moment when I realized at the top that I had left my camera at the tourist information office. I rode the funicular back down….and then back up…with the camera.

If it weren’t for Anne and her running commentary on various things we saw, I would have gone batty.

I’ll give the island this…it is beautiful. I could see someone filming King Kong here… what with the tall steep cliffs shrouded with clouds at the top, giving it a mysterious jungle like feel. It was very humid and surprisingly warm….just like how a gorilla would like it.

Everywhere there were shops, filled with things a local would never buy. I am dying here. We catch the bus to go to AnaCapri on the other side of the island and the road takes us literally to the edge and beyond. Portions of the road are supported by columns, suspended in mid air. It is exhilarating to look out the window and over the edge. This makes me think of another thing that I am not doing on this leg of my trip…I am not DOING. I am just looking and am becoming lethargic and bored.

Anne comes to my rescue again. She is game to walk back to Capri instead of catching the bus. We follow an insane set of stone steps, each a different height, down the side of the mountain, through vine covered archways, passing lemon orchards and grapevines, smelling different types of unusual shaped and colored flowers. We arrive at the bottom, pleased at our little adventure and trembling, not with the excitement as one would hope but….because our legs were now liquid mush and we just couldn’t stand to walk another stair.

Now, with a few hours to kill, we dutifully walked through several of the stores, before finally settling down at a cafĂ© to just watch people. The hands on the clock inched its way around making me wonder if time doesn’t really sometimes stand still. Then rain came, beautiful, large drops of warm rain fell and cleared the streets of most of the foreign and the harbor took on a different personality for a small window of time: Quiet yet still alive, cobblestones glistening in the waning light and colors turning in for the night.

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