Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Arrividerci, italia 

My Dearest,

Tuesday morning, sitting cosy in bed in Casavalle while I write this. It’s raining outside, not a drizzle, but a full-on wet and steady sobbing, which perfectly suits the mood of povera Mara, who will leave Italy tomorrow. All that’s left to do is decide what to wear on the plane, repack the small bag with that on top, load up the car, and later today, we drive to Milan to spend the night with Maria and Salvatore before heading to the airport with them tomorrow morning.

But first, lunch! (Of course) It’s very simple:

Prosciutto Crudo di Parma
Cold roast farona & potatoes
Mozzarella Bufalo
A ripe tomato
A nice little salad of fennel with lemon
Marinated artichokes
Lemon torta

And you thought this was going to be some sad farewell full of longing and regrets for meals uneaten, important historical sites unvisted, and many Italian men unkissed. Hell, no! We’ve seen more sites than we can mentally process or even remember. I ALWAYS kiss the men – I have a strict policy. And we’ve been eating very well, thank you. For example, last night we had dinner at Da Faccini, in nearby Castel d’Arquato. We’ve eaten there several times, now, so when we walk in, they don’t bother to hand us the menu. Just come over and recite the daily specials.

Dinner last night was:

Fried bread (it has some special name here in the area, but I can’t remember it)
Duck liver pate
Carrot gnocchi in a basil cream sauce
Roasted farona (big chicken) with potatoes
Roast lamb with fresh rosemary with more potatoes

We were too greedy, ordering two secondis, so had to pass on salad, formaggio e il dolce. But on the way out the door, I snitched a tiny bite of Torta di Mandorle (almond). Crunch and sticky on the teeth at the same time. How do they do it?

Yesterday day, we went to Modena. The old centro is a UN World Heritage site. The duomo there a gigantic mishmash with the campanile as leaning as the tower in Pisa. Plus, 12th century lions guarding the doors, and looking like a cross between dogs and seals more than lions, but I think that's a comment on our limited ability to see rather than on the carvers of the 12th century.

There was a huge screem TV set up in the piazza with lots of people watching the election results once they started coming in at 3 in the afternoon. Plus a huge, beautifully restored synagogue nearby.
Anyway, there is also a beautiful central market in Modena, huge, full of everything good to eat (and do they know how to eat here in Emilia-Romagna!) We stopped to ask a woman selling gorgeous poultry – everything from tiny quail to pigeons, chickens of various types and sizes to ducks, geese, tachino (turkey) – where to go eat. She immediately conferred with the salumi lady next door and the vegetable lady across the way and after a five minute confab in very fast local dialect that I couldn’t follow, they decided we should eat at Trattoria Aldinna across the street. We were given very specific instructions for walking to the door, but walked right by it, never saw it, walked for twenty minutes in circles, finally asked someone at a bar, who walked us down the street and pointed, still didn’t see it, asked someone else, who walked us to the door, where we FINALLY saw it, and it was worth all the trouble.

A local place full of folks from the mercato across the street, local business people, students from the University around the corner. Not only were we the only non-Italians there, I think we were the only non-Modenese. The waitress could barely give us the time of day until George ordered the cannelloni and then the situation improved instantly. Suddenly there were more choices, it was possible for me to have veal scallops in balsamico (hey, it was invented in Modena) and so here is what we had for lunch:

Baked cannelloni filled with ground veal, spinach, parmesan with ragu
Veal scallops deglazed in balsamico
Potatoes mashed with cream
Steamed spinach with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar
Marinated artichokes
Macedonia (fruit salad)
Creme Caramel
Torta of Almonds and Spinach
A mezzo of local red wine

You can see why our dinner at Da Faccini was so abbreviated.

Going backwards in time, not an easy thing, but I haven’t written to you, my dearest dear, for a while so:

We’ve been here in Casavalle near Piacenza at Salvatore and Maria’s country place since Saturday. Salvatore, who is a terrific cook (and boy, does he know it) fed us and fed us when we arrived...

Minced chicken stewed with a little this and that
Pasta with carciofi
A cacicavallo cheese he brought back from Sicily last summer that’s been aging in the cantina for 9 months
Grilled sausages
His homemade wine, red, young and fizzy
wonderful fennel salads every day

And afterwards, sitting up into the night over a bottle of grappa, talking, joking, and me giving Salvatore English lessons. I meant to teach him how to say "I have the tortured soul of an artist, and you are very beautiful, my dear", which will be a very useful line for him at the gallery opening of his show in Seattle later this month. But he pointed out that I was teaching him how to say "In my soul I am a turtle. We both agreed that it would be difficult to seduce anyone by announcing that you’re a turtle. Toratuga, turtle. Tormente, tortured or tormented. I think I’ve got it straight now.

Before we came to Casavalle, we were in Sestri Levante for three days to visit friends. Plus to eat, of course. Our big highlight meal was at Luchini, an osteria down the road in Chiavari that’s been around since 1907. We ate:

Baccala Fritteres
Minestrone Genovese
Cima Bollito (Veal breast, wrapped around an eggy and vegie filling, then boiled)
Rib Steak
Potatoes baked with cheese
Something else, can’t remember what.
Creme caramel
Wonderful local white wine.

And dinner the next night at Ristorante Nanin, where the seafood is sublime:

Marinated White Anchovies
Hot Seafood Antipasto
Pasta with mussels and clams, a titch of tomato and an abundance of garlic.
More wonderful local white wine

And spent time hanging out with Marisa, Ricardo, Solo and Miriam. The friendship between George and Solo, is such a precious part of Sestri, as is my friendship with Marisa.

Before that, a day and a night in Parma, where we had a fantastic lunch and the only really bad dinner we’ve had in Italy this year. IN PARMA! Shocking. It was a restaurant near the duomo where we had eaten last year and had a terrific meal. New owners? The cook was sick? Who knows? Learned our lesson, though. When we walked in the door, it didn’t feel, look or smell ‘right’.

As for lunch the next day, George had a wonderful pasta and I ate every vegetable in the place at an osteria that was ethnic and sexy looking, but with american disco music playing. George doodled the word ‘jazz’ all over his paper placemat. Subliminal suggestion, he said..

Before Parma, we were in Saturnia, down in Toscana for three days. Saturnia has been a spa for the rich and famous since Etruscan times. These days, the rich and famous go to the Spa, where it costs 40 euros a day just to hang out by their swimming pool. The rest of us do much better though, by heading to the cascada (waterfall) where the waters of the hot springs cascade down into a series of pools where for free, you can rest your bones and restore your soul. My ankle was still smarting from a fall I took in Rome, so I found me a little whirly pool where I let the warm sulphury waters beat the shit out of my foot for hours on end. Heaven. We found a beautiful place to stay, just outside of the town of Saturnia, the Albergo Villa Garden. Beautiful room with terrace and views of blooming peach and almond trees. Big bathtub to soak in once we were done soaking at the hot springs – the rotten egg smell really wasn’t bad, but it really wasn’t good, either.

There are a couple of fantastic restaraunts in Saturnia. Sorry, I can’t remember what all we ate, but I can’t wait to go back, so it must have been really good.

And before Saturnia, we were in Narni, where our very dear friends Jadrana and Franco had made our six weeks there wonderful, amazing, fruitful. I finished a new draft of my new play. Spent some quality time thinking and dooling about a few other projects. Walked up and down my 200 gradinis (stairs) from the Piazza Girabaldi to our little casa on Moon Street so many times that my ass is as close to perfect now as can be. Narni was full of interesting places, many new friends, great food, and most especially, a reaffirmation of how much goodness there truly is in our difficult world, in our troubled and troubling times. All it takes is honesty, trust, and compassion, all of which were lavished on us. We did our best to respond in kind.

Goodbye for now, my dearest dears. Ci vediamo presto, si?

Baci (kisses),

Friday, March 24, 2006



Since you’ve already accused me of writing food porn, I’ve decided to give up anything highminded and go about the pleasurable task of appealing to the basest of your instincts. So, just how base, I hear you asking, and what precisely is a pussy with two squirts? It's a Roman pastry, my dear...

We’re in Rome for a few days, visiting l’amica nostra, Gaby Ford, the Artistic Director of the English Theatre of Rome (or when they do a bilingual production, the (Not Only) English Theatre of Rome.) She lives in a 4th floor apartment in Porta Pia, near the main train station (and since the 4th floor in Europe is what we in the less optimistic States call the 5th floor, we’re very glad that she has a classy deco elevator up to her door.Three rooms, more than decent bathtub and a beautiful terrace full of green plants and flowers. Now, if only it would stop raining... And the pastry in question? Made by an open-all night and closed at 7 a.m. bakery in Gaby's neighborhood.

The specifics: Sorchetta con due schizzi, which translates as, well, I wrote it once in the title of this blog entry and once at the top of this paragraph, so I ain't doin' it a third time. Think of a flaky, light, delicate danish with a slightly lemony cheesy filling. Then imagine that two lines of chocolate pastry cream have been squirted on top of it, then further imagine that it's been further covered by whipped cream and then drizzled with dark chocolate.

We arrived Wednesday, had a wonderful lunch on the terrace with her and her friend Roy, a nice Jewish boy from New York, who has lived in Rome for a million years, is an actor (a very good one according to Gaby) and makes his living giving personal tours of Rome to Americans, Italians, well, all kinds of people. He says that the Italian Catholics are the best tippers. Lunch was:

Spinach Risotto
Insalata with all kinds of good stuff in it

I repeat: what is better in this world than eating a homemade risotto in Italy~!

Long shooting of the shit with Gaby and with Roy. The sun was shining, and vita was very dolce on Gaby’s terrazzo.

Followed by a long walk and gawk during which a tempeste (rain storm) began tempesting. We got out of the rain in a beautiful enoteca in Piazza dei Pietra. A glass of spumate for me, a nice montepulciano for George, plus a cheese plate of all sheep cheeses, everything from creamy, mild and fresh to ancient, dry and complex. Served with honey, apple compote, apricot jam, and pere marmalade with mustard. We have GOT to find some of these marmalades w/ mustard – we also ate some of a kickass bitter orange version in Perugia. We will serve a formal cheese course, even if it’s just the two of us henceforth and become veryvery cheesy. To counteract all the beans– I had made a minestrone with lentils, cecis and borlottis a few days before, and we were annoucing our arrivals wherever we went.

Thus fortified with vino e formaggio, back out into the weather and onto the Pantheon. My first impression – Japanese tourists taking photos by holding their cell phones high above their heads. Americans in Gap khakis and sweatshirts with football emblems, sitting on the few benches around the perimeter staring at their souvineers, looking tired. Why am I always so disappointed by the sights I’ve been dreaming of forever? Yadayada, Pantheon, proportions, dome, marble. The walking back around and getting lost in the pouring rain after was much more memorable, even visually – the sudden change in the quality of the light, the twisty streets, the fountains in every piazza, big and small.

But why am I complaining? We’re in Rome, baby! With its layers upon layers of city and history and the living of lives famous and otherwise. Back to Gaby’s apartment in time to go to a party for her friend Antonino and his new American bride, Jenny. They live in Venice Beach in California – it turns out 4 or 5 blocks from our friends Dorie and Ed. The piccolo mondo syndrome at work. Naturally, I called Dorie in California. How often do you get to say (unfortunately to her voice mail) "Hi, darling, it’s midnight here in Rome. We’re at a party in an unbelievably beautiful loft. The guests of honor are your NEIGHBORS! Ciao, bella!" Quite the la dolce vita moment, if you know what I mean.

Back late, up talking until 4 in the morning. Maybe all that dolce life is a little, er, um, rigorous for my vita, but I want credit for trying, fer crissake. Of course, when I finally got up at noon, exhausted, parched and with a very un-Italian hangover, discretion won out over valor and I stayed in for the day, comfy, reading, and out of the rain and a sudden deluge of gigantic hail.. What I didn’t see yesterday: the sights. Do I know how to visit Rome or what?

What we finally did do: trek over the Piazza Novarro to see Gaby’s beautiful theatre space, which you can see at www.rometheatre.com, grab a ride from there to a rehearsal of her next production where we arrived in time to shmooze with the actors while Gaby went out into the street and dragged a rather large log back to use for the set. The best props come off the streets for free, just like back home. Afterwards to an osteria in Gaby’s neighborhood where we had a perfect late dinner:

Carcioffi and assorted vegies off the antipasti table

Penne arribiata (translates as 'angry sauce', and waiter insisted that we refrain from sprinkling it with cheese because the cheese might calm down the bite of the perperoncino)

Saltimboca Romana (veal sauteed with sage and proscuitto)

A steak (grilled to medium and served with nothing but salt and lemon)


Insalata mista

bottle of house red



Afterwards the buses had stopped running, and there wasn’t a cab in sight. It was a fifteen block walk back to the apartment, so Gaby stuck out her thumb and stopped a station wagon full of lesbians. Who generously gave us a ride back to the apartment. The dolce vita just keeps rolling and rolling.

Back at the apartment, more grappa (this time in the pretty glasses), followed by more conversation, the reading of a few scenes from a play, followed by getting to bed early – 3 a.m.

Today, a completely new leaf. I was up bright and early at 10:30, and with a quick exit out of the house by a quarter to one. We walked our long mile over to the Jewish Ghetto, where we ran into Roy (of Wednesday lunch at Gaby’s) at Yatovah, the kosher dairy restaurant that he had told us about. Another instance of the piccolo mondo principle at work in the enormous Roma. He was leading a tour for three clients from Birmingham, who insisted that we should try the pasta they were eating:

Homemade fettucine in a cream and lemon sauce

I thought she meant that we should come over to their table with our forks, which they didn’t exactly, but which we did and they were nice enough to let us have a taste, even if it wasn’t part of their cultural gestalt. Oh boy! (which is inglese for mama mia!) was I glad we did. Besides if you can’t table hop and fress off a stranger’s plate in a kosher dairy restaurant in the Roman ghetto, what is the point of traveling?

What we ordered, with a little sage advice from Roy, who had translated their menu into English for them:

Carcioffi a la guida (artichokes Jewish style)

Gnocchi a la panna (with cream and parmesan – little floating clouds of potato gnocchi, fabulous)
Bacala con pomodoro e ciopolle (which, strangely enough, tasted exactly like the fresh salmon baked with tomato sauce that my grandma used to make – I was thrilled and transported – taste as time travel.)

Ciccoria piccante (chicory stewed with pepperoncino, olive oil and served with pressed, sliced dried fish eggs and bread crumbs)

A ricotta and polenta torta for dessert that was so good that I cried real tears.


Esrogcello (lemoncello, but made with esrogs grown on the Amalfi coast, where, according to Roy doing his fabulous tour guide thing – the very best esrogs have always been grown, the place where the sages of old shelpped from all over the Mediterranean to do their grocery shopping for the holidays...)

Followed by a stop at the kosher bakery where we picked up a kilo of cookies to sustain us:


Biscotti with lots of almonds and cinnamon

Pizza Guida, a sweet bread stuffed with candied fruit

something else, I can’t remember what it's called


We tagged after Roy and his tourists for a few minutes – actually LEARNED something about the Ghetto: created in 1555 by papal edict. Large enough space to hold 2,000 people, but on opening day, 6,000 Jews had to shoehorn themselves in, started with 2 gates which increased to 8 over the generations. Finally closed in the 1800's. It was the Jewish slum in the 1400's before it ever became the ghetto. At its height it held 16,000 people. I think I got that right. Then we looked into a window set in the pavement, where in the basement of a furniture repair shop there was a 2nd century taverna. Fast food joint. You could still see the marble counters.
Okay, by now it was pouring again. So after a stop at the Jewish bookstore, we grabbed a cab back to Via Castelfidardo (Gaby’s apartemente) where hot bath, reading, relaxing and the writing this has ensued.

We leave for dinner in a while. Gaby has us going to a restaurant that specializes in the foods of Imperial Rome. I promise to take photos and let you know what it’s like to eat like a Citizen.


Thursday, March 16, 2006



First, the pizza: As many of you know, I stopped eating wheat a while ago because of my arthritis, and damn, if it didn’t work, so now my aches and pains are much less achy and painful. It is practically impossible to avoid eating wheat in Italy, although my consolations are risottos and polentas and fabulous soups made with farro or fagioli... So I’m not complaining or anything.

BUT. I should eat ONE fricking pizza, ONE time this trip, shouldn't I? After all, it’s ITALY. And the time chosen for this famous one-time-only eating of the pizza was determined to be Tuesday. After much discussion with everyone we know or have met here in Narni, plus a few consultations with friendly Italian strangers, it was determined that we should go to Pizzeria Chiodo Fisso in nearby Terni. Chiodo Fisso: it translates as ‘spike in the forehead’ and is slang for ‘obsession’. And oh, honey, baby, dear...

I ordered a salsiccia & funghi porcini, sausuage and porcini mushroom pizza. The crust was thin but not cracker thin, baked in a wood oven and NOT soggy in the middle, not even by the final slice. With a taste balanced nicely between the wheat and the yeast. The tomato sauce was neither too acidic nor to salty nor to sweet nor too cooked into paste. The mozzarella bound everything together nicely, not too much of it, either. The sausage was mild, like the best breakfast sausage you can imagine, the porcinis were, well, this is porcini country here in Umbria and they don’t mess around.


George ordered mezzo peperoni, mezzo salami picante. Peperoni in Italian means sweet bell peppers. His pizza came with one side filled with beautiful grilled fresh peppers and the other side with, er, perperoni as we know it in the states. Plus he asked for mozzarella bufalo on his. He refused to share.

I have eaten good pizzas in Italy. I have eaten a few great pizzas in Italy. But, for the first time in my life, I have eaten the Platonic Ideal of Pizza and it is a chiodo fisso, a spike in my forehead. Despite waking up with my shoulders, elbows, hand joints and knees inFLAMed and throbbing with arthritis, I shall return to Pizzeria Chiodo Fisso in Terni one more time before we leave Narni

Naturally, I’m already planning for my second pizza. I’m inclined to get a Pizza Margherita con mozzarella bufalo, just simple and perfect, you know? Although I may get a Pizza Rucola, with arugula on top, and a perfect blend of pizza and salad, easily obtainable here in Italy although hard to come by in the states. Or I’m open to suggestions, so let me know if you have any (Domino Pizza habitues need not apply.)

Okay, the ghost doors...

They also call them porte dei morte, doors of the dead. They’re all over the place here in Narni, where there are buildings six, seven, eight, more hundred years old. Old doors and windows that, long ago, were walled up during some long-forgotten project for some long-forgotten reason. Some of them are remarkably beautiful and strange because over the centuries, as remodel followed restoration followed remodel, the outline of the original door may have been subsequently closed, partially reopened and then partially reclosed several times. So that an ancient stone archway may abruptly disappear into a current window, or there may be the outline of a door inside of the outline of a 2nd story window which is intersected by the yet another forgotten previous door or window and inset with a current window.

Yesterday, we drove up to Gubbio, north of Perugia for the day. The guide book says that Gubbio is especially famous for its porte dei morte, many of which are at ground level. The guide book says that the Gubbionese explanation for these walled up holes is that when someone died, a hole would be knocked in the wall through which to carry out the corpse, and since it was a corpse that used the doorway, it would then have be walled up because otherwise BAD LUCK! . But c’mon, as much as I love you, no matter how superstitious I am, which is VERY, I am not knocking a hole in the wall of my HOME if you happen to die there. And the book agrees with me. They say it’s a romantic story, but more likely, these doors were at the foot of staircases which were walled up to defend the home in time of war.


I choose to believe my friend Jadrana, who says that Ghost Doors just ARE. The complicated walled up doors/windows are part of the ORIGINAL construction of medieval and older Italian buildings, so that the dead (as in ghosts) could have their own entrances and exits. The recently deceased would certainly need portals to the next world. The soon-to-be-born likewise would need passages for their souls to enter this world. And other ghosts could potentially become lost or get stuck or who-knows-what – maybe some ghosts are just like some people and enjoy traveling and seeing the sights.

Before leaving for Gubbio, I studied my two Umbrian guide books PLUS the Italian language guide to Slow Food restaurants. Put some check marks by the sights worth seeing, chose three lunch spots to cruise, read the menus and smell the aromas of before deciding upon where to eat. Of course, in fine fashion, after all that work, I forgot to bring the books. So when we got to Gubbio, we had no itinerary and more importantly NO IDEA WHERE TO HAVE LUNCH!!!!!

Driving into Gubbio, it’s easy enough to figure out what to see first. There is a fantastic Roman Amphitheatre build in the 1st century bc, just outside the walls to the old city. It’s been restored and every summer there is a schedule of performances. The day was beautiful clear-blue and sunny. The green green grass and the ancient stones of il Teatro Romano were calling. It was all there to behold – the stage, the orchestra, the seats, the backstage areas, dressing rooms, workshops, etc. I picked up a pebble, which I’m certain was trod upon by a famous and beautiful Roman actress in 69 bc during a fight she was in the midst of having with her very angry Roman producer/husband about the affair she was engaged in with her very handsome and younger Roman leading man.

It goes something like this:

(a short play)
by Mara Lathrop

(Setting: The stage of the Amphitheatre in Gubbio)

It is true. When Victoriosus Maturicus first came as an actor to this amphitheatre of Gubbio, he meant nothing to me. But Victoriosus Maturicus is young, he is handsome, and something in me stirs! Something deep, something which cannot be denied!

I have given unto you this amphitheatre of Gubbio. What can Victoriosus Maturicus provide for you except smoldering glances and good hair? For the love of Jupiter – he is an actor!
You know nothing of love!

I know that I am your husband and either you will give up Victoriosus Maturicus ...
I cannot!

...or you will give up this amphitheatre of Gubbio!

I will not!

(BRODERICUS CRAWFORDIUM grabs BETTESSIMA DAVISIUS by the shoulders and shakes her, throws her to the ground.)

(With all the dignity she can muster, BETTESSIMA DAVISIUS stands up and brushes herself off.) I must now prepare for tongihts night’s performance here in this amphitheatre of Gubbio.

Annus Baxtera, the young and beautiful local girl, knows all your lines and will perform in this amphitheatre of Gubbio in your place!

Annus Baxtera, that little vixen?

This amphitheatre in Gubbio is mine, do you hear? Your gilded sandals shall never again trod upon the stage of this amphitheatre of Gubbio!

This amphitheatre of Gubbio was nothing but a backwater for second rate touring companies until *I* brought to it my grace, my artistry, and without me, this amphitheatre of Gubbio will return to ignanimity once more!

Backwater? You were performing in a 50-seat amphitheatre on the banks of that sewer, the Tiber River, when I plucked you from the chorus. I brought you to this amphitheatre of Gubbio. I made you a star! And I will unmake you, too!

(she strikes BRODERICUS CRAWFORDIUM across the cheek.)

Go then go, to your Victoriosus Maturicus. The two of you are doomed to whacking each other over the head with giant phalluses for the vulgar country folk on market days in Bastardo! (BRODERICUS CRAWFORDIUM exits.)
(She picks up a small rock at her feet and holds it up to the heavens) I swear by all the muses, by the gods themselves, by the very stones upon the stage, this amphitheatre of Gubbio will be mine! All mine!

And now, without further ado...
The Gubbio Food Report

Since we’d forgotten to bring the books, we were at the mercies of the guy at the tourist office and a 10 year old boy on the street for restaurant recommendations. The guy in the tourist office said he was not able to recommend anything and gave us a brochure with a list of all the restaurants in Gubbio. He said everything was excellent. Uh-huh. At the first cross street we came to, we saw the right type of sign and the right type of old fashioned lantern for a decent trattoria meal. We walked over to peruse the menu – short and sweet. A half dozen antipasti, a handful of primi, secondi, plus a short list of specialties of the house, some vegetables and desserts. A boy of about ten years walked by and told us in Italian that it was a really good restaurant. He was a cutie pie.
La Lanterna was okay, although I don’t think we ordered well. The mezzo of house red wine was a little sour, but a drop of water fixed that. George and I split a starter of what should have been zuppe di contadini e fagioli, which should have been vegie and bean soup but turned out to be barley and bean. A little olive oil and a sprinkle of peperoncini sparked it up and we liked it well enough. Nothing I couldn’t have managed as well or better at home. George had lombo di miale, one of their specialties – it was a small slice of fresh pork leg, sauteed and covered with a balsamic vinegar sauce and some fresh arugula. I liked it, but George thought that is was too teenytiny and kind of like novelle cuisine. I didn’t think it was quite that microscopic, at least it was more than enough if we were each eating three courses, but we weren’t. At least the flavors were gutzy. And all the white plate looked very pretty around it. I had a scallopini of veal with porcini mushrooms. The sauce was a titch sour – like they’d used some bad wine when reducing the sauce. Nothing awful, but gee, I guess I’m getting as crabby as Giorgio about eating anything less than utterly fantastic meals in Italy. Followed by an insalata mista. Just fine, although not nearly as good as one of Franco’s. On the way out the door, the cute little boy who told us that it was a good restaurant in the first place was doing his homework at the bar with the television on. Duh. And then, upon checking in the books later, turns out we should have eaten at practically every other restaurant, osteria and trattoria in Gubbio.
But how bad can a sunny day be, when il pranzo (lunch) is followed by a leisurly stroll... The old streets–twisty and beautiful. A walk past the Teatro Communale, the theatre that was built in the early 1700's and still serves the town today. Quite a bit of walking up. Hey, it’s a hill town... The reward was the view over the countryside to the west from Piazza Grande in front of the Palazzo dei Consoli. Gubbio is built in terraces up the side of a very steep hill/cliff and so the open spaces seem incredibly open on the downhill side. Plus, there’s a small river that runs through Gubbio. And check this out – they PAVED it, the river. The riverbed is squared and paved in stone the old town. Plus there’s a beautiful giardino commissioned some lady or duchess in the 1830's. Plus we made it into Chiesa S. Martino, which was recently restored, with the new (17th century?) Facade removed from midway up, with the 12th/13th century original exterior showing above it. A really beautiful and satisfying solution to the problem of restoring a church in Italy. Plus twisty medieval streets. Did I already mention those? Of course, we never got to all the historic buildings and the important museum. But hey, if you want a real travelogue, get a book and don’t leave it on the dining room table.

The drive back to Narni was on a country road that followed the crest of a chain of hills south to Perugia. So THAT’s what I want to go back for, even more than for another walk through beautiful Gubbio or a meal in one of their famously delicious restaurants. It is to drive north on and enjoy that country road, (which I can’t remember the name/number of) but it has views and vistas and vast visual variety in all directions. It was late afternoon as we drove, and the light turned from white to gold to pink and orange, red and then to indigo as the sun set. All those overly dramatic, embarrassingly romantic, 18th and 19th century English paintings of the Italian countryside? It’s all true!!!! They got the light just SO RIGHT!!!!!!
Dinner at casa Via della Moon Street: It was dark and we were tired by the time we got home, so we kept it simple, just boiled up some:
Pasta di farro and tossed it with fresh tomatoes chopped up and briefly sauteed with ½ an onion, some garlic, and a spot of red wine and I diced up a fresh mozzarella bufalo and threw that in, too.
A bunch of lightly steamed wild asparagras, drizzled with fruity, green Umbrian olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of grated pecorino Yes, I see you turning as green as our wild asparagras.
For dessert, a piece of chocolate.



Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Perfect Day (ptt, ptt, ptt) 


A perfect day is made even more so when compared to the horrible, very bad day preceding the perfect day...

...which wasn’t so shabby, either, by the way. Just a few little knockabout trials and tribulations. And in Assisi, no less!

So it turns out that my very least favorite part of having a car in Italy isn’t the driving (which is bad enough). It’s the parking. Especially in a new place where I’ve never been before. We arrived in Assisi on Thursday morning and, as par for my course, I ended up parking in a public parking lot waaaaaaaaay off to the east end of the old city. As far away from the Basilica of St. Francis as you could be and still actually be in Assisi.

But we made it through road construction, a sewer improvement site and several building restoration projects to the central piazza, picked up a few brochures at the information office, got oriented and headed west. By now, it was LUNCHTIME! And every place we passed was closed for vacation – March being one of the few slow times in the Assisi pilgrim/tourist year. After some lefting and righting, and a lot of walking up (Assisi, like Genoa, is a place that even when you’re walking downhill, you seem to be walking up – miracle or nuisance, you decide) we arrived at a very fine IL PRANZO at the only open ristorante we saw, consisting of:

Tagliatelli Delizioso – their name, not mine, and the sauce was very delicious, with cream, finely ground pork, and many other fine secrets

Truffle Omelette – perfectly cooked, the eggs just barely done and the truffles still uncooked inside

and contorni:
Onions Glazed with Balsamic Vinegar
Grilled Radicchio
Sauteed Asparagras, as thin as coctail straws

our (inevitable) mezzo litro of red wine



Thus fortified, a walk through the Basilica – but how to take in such a place? For a bunch of poor monks who didn’t believe in ownership, wow! There’s the upper church and the lower church and the cloister and the crypt. Also the room of relics – a patchwork robe of rough woven brown cloth worn by Frank, himself. A little piece of paper with his signature. We thought the frescos in the lower church far surpassed the more well-known frescoes in the upper church. In Italy, everybody is an art expert.

In all, we shlepped through 5 or 6 churches in Assisi: San Rufino, the Basillica of St. Francis, the Basillica of St. Clare, la Chiesa Nuova (the New Church) and then we lost count, so let's just call it Church Thursday. (the toilette of S Francesco)

Along the way, we passed by a pastry and gelato shop. Naturalemente, a brief stop for enhanced nourishment was required.

‘So okay,’ I hear you wondering, ‘where are all these trials and tribulations that supposedly preface your perfect Friday?’ I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it...

(3rd row, 2nd from left)

Departed Assisi at dusk in a deluge-like downpour of very wet rainstorm, heading for the highway. Got on the wrong road. Ended up heading north to Perugia, instead of south to Narni. On a way-small, teeny-tiny country road with 2 inches of standing water on it, thanks to the pouring rain. Decided we’d stay overnight in Perugia and see some of the Perugia sights on Friday if they hadn’t all washed away. Got lost AGAIN and couldn’t FIND Perugia, which as you probably know, is a major Italian city. Now headed on our third or fourth wrong road within an hour, this one was limited access, so we seemed doomed to arrive eventually in Ancona, 150 clicks away. Saw a sign for Assisi. Got off highway. Decided we could find a place to stay somewhere near Assisi. Decided to find a ‘charming place’. In the dark. In the rain. Saw sign for a ‘Country House’. Followed sign down dark and twisty, slick and rainy country road. Road stopped being paved. Drove over washboard gravel road all the way to ‘Country House’ which was dark and closed. Drove back to highway. Repeated twice more at additional signs to ‘Country Houses’. Drove back to EXACT SAME 1st PARKING LOT in Assisi. Walked into center of town. Stopped at first hotel with lights on.

Dinner was at a nearby osteria – the food was barely so-so. George, who was the soul of patience, encouragement and support during the Terrible Drive while I wailed and hit my head repeatedly on the steering wheel crying, ‘it’s all my fault, why am I so stupid?’, was extremely grumpy about eating a bad meal in Italy and blamed me for allowing him to pick the restaurant.

But – and this is the turning point in my story – from the minute we got back in our hotel room, things were great! The Hotel dei Priori was in it’s first incarnation, a 16th century palazzo. They gave us a really beautiful room with a frescoed ceiling (and you know what HAS to happen in a beautiful hotel room with a frescoed ceiling, don’t you?) Plus, we had a 6 foot long bathtub. The price of as much hot water as I wanted was included, as was a very decent breakfast the next morning. Plus wi-fi. Not to mention that after quoting us the 50% off winter rate, I had the presence of mind to as for ‘un piccolo sconto, per favore.’ So they knocked another 10% off the room. Only twice as much as our budget usually demands. Sometimes, it’s good to be fedup,
soggy and in need of the first hotel you come to, n’est pas?
(the view from underneath)

In the daylight of a Friday morning, it’s very easy to find Perugia.

We had decided to make a modest day of it. To see only one sight, eat only one meal and get an early start on heading back to Narni.

We picked the Provincial Museum of Archeology, which is housed in a former cloister of a church. We drove into town. Found a FREE PARKING SPOT near the train station. Went to the Avis office at the train station. The guy gave us perfect directions and a hand drawn map to find the museum. Followed his directions EXACTLY (sort of) and found the museum! Found STREET PARKING (although we did have to pay this time). The museum was thrilling. All pre-Roman stuff found pretty much within a 20 mile radius of Perugia. Including a bronze chariot, hundreds of cineary urns, and a fantastic collection of amulets and lucky charms.

Took a break for lunch. And wandered into the nearby Ristorante Nana. Is there anything in this world that compares with stumbling through an unfamiliar door to a truly wonderful meal? And so, my very dearest, this is where hanging tough through this particular blog entry finally pays off for you. With photos.

We decided to eat an entire meal – way too much food. So we did our famous split everything thing. Mezzo e mezzo, as it were.

Antipasto Misto
*chicken liver pate with cognac
*salad of farro and black truffles (don’t worry, I had a lovely conversation with la donna di ristorante and she gave me the ricette for this one, so I’ll make it for you)
*apple slices
*tart shells filled with soft cheese mixed with garlic and artichokes, black olives
*a pudding of eggs, cheese and polenta

Zuppa di cece (garbanzo beans and onions with a drizzle of very fruity local olive oil on top)

Bollito Miso (boiled meats – in this case, beef shoulder, pork, and veal meatloaf, served with three sauces: marmelade with mustard, olive oil with fennel seeds, and onions carmelized in balsamic vinegar)

Potato Torta (a wedge of potato & cheese pie)

mezzo rosso (the house wine was from a local winery and the best house wine we’ve eve had in Italy)

we asked the owner, who by this time was enjoying us enjoying his food to bring us whatever he thought was best. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo. It was:

A homemade napoleon drizzled with chocolate.

George had a glass of whiskey and
I had a shot of bourbon



Oh yeah, and then we went back to the museum where we saw a reconstructed Etruscan family tomb. And then, despite our earlier decision to stick with only one sight, we went to investigate what kind of church could possibly be under a nearby rocket-looking campanile (it turned out to be the stunning San Pietro, a floozy-doozy of a church, as tricked out and tarted up as La Scala. There are interesting historical reasons why S. Pietro is so decorated and guilded, but none of them have to do with food. We were given a private tour by Giovanni, the guy with the keys to the sacristy and the crypt), and then we got out of Perugia just as it was getting dark.

We rested in our little casa on Via della Moon Street all day Saturday. We needed our strength for a dinner party Saturday night at Jadrana & Franco’s house, where we met Grazia,Giorgio, Daniella and Claudio. The company was wonderful, the conversation pretty much all in Italian, although George managed to end up in a corner by the window with the very beautiful Grazia after dinner for a smoke and a long talk. (how does he always do that? never mind...)Dinner was delicious, of course.

(Daniella, George & Jadrana)

Antipasti of salumi, bruschetti, olives marinated with orange and peperoncini

Zuppa di Farro, which I promise to make for you when I see you.

Coratella, a stew of lamb innards, an Umbrian specialty and rich and exquisite

Insalata di Franco *(see earlier tribute to the salads of Franco)

Cream puffs for dessert.




Ciao bellisimi,
la tua Mara

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Rain and wind, followed by more eating... 


You’re waiting for the Cuisine Report, aren’t you? First you have to hear the Spoletto report. Spoletto is a beautiful! Ancient! With a really fantastic roman bridge! And a beautiful cathedral that opens onto a huge, sloping piazza. And beautiful narrow medieval streets. Almost everything else in town was covered by scaffolding. And we ate lunch there.

Friday il pranzo in Spoletto at Ristirante al Mercato:

Lentil Soup (George)
Mushroom Soup (Mara)
Roast pigeon in red wine sauce
Chicoria e brocoletti
Torta di Spoletto
mezzo vino rosso

George’s lentil soup was made with the local, fantastic teenytiny lentils. Mara’s mushroom soup was made with fresh porcini and forest mushrooms, sweated with garlic and olive oil, with a rich chicken stock added, then pecorino and croutons. Pretty perfect. Roast pigeon – all gone including most of the bones. The torta was a mocha custard baked with chocolate and amoretti on top.

Saturday for la cena, we had guests!

Dinner was

Salumi di Norcia
Lima Beans baked in Vegetable Sauce
Braised Beef
Grilled Baby Artichokes
Insalata of Fennel, Pears and Walnuts
Chocolate Torta

Our guests were Jadrana and Franco, Stephanie and Guilio, their daughter Bernice and their American friend Patricia. Patricia has lived in Italy for 35 years and has (so far) had two Italian husbands, so I don’t know why they call her American still. An object lesson for living here, I suppose. She made the chocolate torta, which was her French sister-in-law’s recipe. Chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs and a sprinkle of flour. The leftover called and called us until there was nothing left.

The house here on Via della Moon Street is small, so once everyone had put their coats in the bedroom, we all sat down at the dining table. Three hours later, we kissed everyone goodbye on both cheeks. In between, we ate, talked in English, Italiano, Francomarese, with a smattering of French and Yiddish. About what? Art, food, mathematics, and a little of everything. At a certain moment, I looked around my Italian table and wished and wished only that you had been here, too.

Sunday, despite wind, rain, a little snow, with occasional sunbeams breaking through the gray, rolling clouds, George, Jadrana, Franco and I went on a day-long outing into il cuore verdi di italia, the green heart of Italy.
First stop was Monte Castello di Vibio, where there is the Teatro della Concordia, a 99 seat theatre built in 1808. We got the grand tour and made reservations to return the end of March for a concert of le 4 stagioni di Vivaldi. (c’mon, you can translate that; it’s easy.) The theatre was in continuous use until 1951. In the 60's there was talk of tearing it down, but the townspeople of Monte Castello di Vibio raised money and imposed a tax (!) on themselves to restore the theatre. Eventually, they got money from the European Union, and now, beautifully restored, with the original frescos and oak pillars intact, Concordia presents plays, concerts, readings, etc. Can you imagine a better place for Franco and Jadrana to take me?

And after Monte Castello di Vibio, we stopped at the parc in Deruta and ate a picnic lunch of Fritatta di Carciofi, porcetta, pane, orancie e bierra in the car – rain shower. Ask me to make you Franco’s fritta di carciofi sometime. .After lunch, we drove to Montefalco to the Museo di Chiesa di San Francesco. Ask to borrow the book when you see me and you won’t be sorry. But you better give it back. Plus wandering around Montefalco, another unspeakably beautiful Umbrian hill town – the vistas down the alleyways and out past the city walls to the hills and valleys beyond. No wonder I’m not a travel writer – there is really nothing that can be said about how the interplay of light, stone walls, nature and my heart make me so happy to be alive in this world. And it is a different world, here. Where the past is not so dead as you might think and time and light play the nicest of tricks.

Plus! PLUS – George bought some bottles of Montefalco Rosso.

Followed by a day of rest, with a huge windstorm outside, a freshly made pot of American coffee, bread, cheese and our endless supply of Norcia salumi... plus the Montefalco Rosso.

Yesterday, Tuesday, we were shunted onto a detour road on a sweet country drive our way to Orvieto. The road never connected with the closed road -- or at least I never figured out how. When the road finally ended in a small mountain village, we turned around, drove allo the way back to Narni, and took the autostrada to Orvieto. We were there and parked within 27 minutes. So much for the back roads.

Our goal: the duomo. And lunch, naturalemente: At a small restaurant in the vaulted basement of a medieval building. With the walls painted a beautiful soft yellow and with good art on the walls. Except for a German threesome on the other side of the dining room, we had the place to ourselves. Just us and a kindly waitress who was willing to talk slowly and help us pick a very fine meal:

Pasta with fava beans and pork cheek
Roasted pork shank with roasted potatos and brocollini
Creme caramel
Vin Santo

And no offence, Mom, but this Creme caramel gives yours a real run for it's money. For those of you who don't know, my mother makes probably the best creme caramel in .. I used to say the world, but now I have to say in North America. We're going back to Orvieto next week to go to the Etruscan Museum (after the duomo, we felt that we'd taken in all the beauty we could stand for one day). I will do my best to get the recipe or at least a few hints.

ci vidiamo presto,

Monday, February 27, 2006

All You Care About Is The Food? 


Based on the fan mail, mostly all youze guyz care about is what we ate yesterday? So be it:

Sunday, Feb 26

IL PRANZO (lunch) at Franco & Jadrana's house:

Risotto con carcioffi (artichokes) --creamy, perfectly cooked. Is anything better in this world than risotto homemade in an Italian kitchen by an Italian cook?

Whole fish roasted in coarse salt -- Franco and Jadrana had eaten a branzino cooked thusly at friends' house in Trieste for New Years and this was the first time Franco had attempted it in his own kitchen. YAY FRANCO!!! YAY friends in Trieste for cooking it in the first placed!!! I promise to make this for you (yes! YOU) sometimes.

Insalata Mista--which is a mixed salad, but what passes for salad in the states, even a really good salad, is niente (nothing) compared to the beautiful and dear little lettuces here.

LA CENA (dinner) a Casa Via della Luna (our house on Moon Street)

George ate:
leftover bollito -- short rib of beef boiled with aromatic vegies
pane di Terni

I ate:
1/2 a mozzarella bufallo and a (ripe!) tomato from Sicily
Not even any olive oil or salt.

Okay? Can I get on with my story now?

In between meals, Franco took us to Cascata di Marmore -- a beautiful waterfall. They wanted 4 euros per person to go into the park at the bottom of the waterfall for the primo view. Instead, we parked on the shoulder of the highway and took some photos -- view was pretty damned fine senza the 4 euros, eh?

Afterwards we drove up a twisty road, past the studio where Benini makes his films, up to the top of the falls, where they wanted ANOTHER 4 euros a person to go to the good vantage point. Ay yi yi.

In an attempt to avoid the fee, Franco and Jadrana shut up and George and I spoke only English to them. Not so much as a 'buongiorno'. No go. One of the three women guarding the gate spoke excellent English. Someone would have to pay 4 euros if I wanted to walk around the corner to take a photo of the falls. This according to the tough old bird who seemed to be calling the shots in Italian.

Ciao, scoma vecchia (a really bad thing to say). Which I wish I'd said as we were leaving, but didn't.

Anyway, preferiamo gelato. We prefer gelato. Not to mention that I can easily download photos of the falls off the internet, for your viewing pleasure. So. We headed into Terni, where it was the final Sunday of Carnivale. The streets and piazzas were loaded with kids in costumes and it was a fine, only partly cloudy afternoon.

Gelato eaten, Franco, Jadrana, George and I went to a wonderful chamber music concert. Beethoven, Mozart, Faure and an encore of Mendelsohn for piano, violin and cello. The cellist, in particular was incredible. Listening to the music and watching the cellist was a lesson for me in what it really means to listen.

And now, ahem, onto the other stuff.

I have had two complaints about the blog recently.

The first from my friend Martino, really angry with me for pretending to be an 'expert' on Italy. I am not an expert on Italy. I am not an expert on anything. Well, I like to think I know a thing or three about playwriting, making love, and cooking. But, it's just me in here, people. My opinions-- while usually stated emphatically and with apparent confidence -- are limited, biased and faulty. Hell, I don't even spell very well. Anyway, I AM NOT PRETENDING! This really is my blog and I am an insufferable asshole on occasion.

So when you read the crap I write here, like "the salumi in Norcia is the best in Italy" it's only because I either read it in some guide book *Rough Guide on Tuscany & Umbria in this case*. Or I'm being overly emphatic / dramatic to make a point. And the salumi in Norcia is REALLY REALLY GOOD.

Martino is a dear love of a friend . He and Chiara have made so much possible for George and me here in Italy. The times that we have spent with them in Puglia have been some of the best times we've had on this or any continent.

The second complaint is from my friend Hatto in Athens. Whereas Martino's complaint was a rather characteristic yadayada yellathon over the telephone (it's so good to have Jewish friends who are happy to yell at/with/to me), Hatto's complaint (also characteristic, in my opinion) was a well reasoned and documented bitchfiesta via email.

Hatto points out to me that on my blog I tell less than the complete truth, the full story, and in publishing a blog that has no external editorial oversight, by making private thoughts public for anyone with internet access to read, my capacity for hurting people is without limits. Further, that the problem is larger than just my blog, but is a blog-wide issue, this private thoughts in public space issue, that must be addressed in the larger context of the world wide web.

I agree completely with Hatto: everything he says is true.

We all get to be faymoose these days, don't we? Or at least pubic, er, public. To me, anyone claiming 'the truth' is dangerous or misguided or has their head completely up their ass. Just like I claim proudly to be an UNEXPERT, I also happily hereby proclaim that I'm totally responsible for all the putrid mistakes herein, the half-truths to improve the retelling of a story, the omissions so that I can get more directly to my point, the less-than-generous point of view. All me. My bad.

You are hereby advised: far from being the 'star', I am the villain of this story. If I say something that aggrandizes myself and diminishes someone else, it's only because I'm going for a cheap laugh or my innate cowardice has gotten the better of me or I'm a complete and irredeemable bitch. I'm not saying this for the sympathy vote (although supportive emails taking exception and telling me how good I am and how much you love me are always appreciated, naturalemente.)

So why do the blog thing? It entertains me. You are free to disagree if it doesn't entertain you. Also, this is how I keep in touch with friends -- much cheaper and more efficient than writing postcards, more fulsome--aren't you glad to hear about my adventures, even if today you are suffering through all this fucking navel gazing? My goal? To get you to send me an email saying hi or to post some comment on the blog for me to find. Because I get lonely.

If you are looking for something more grand or important or 'real' from me you must immediately cease and desist - I just can't take that kind of pressure.

As for the personal examples of the problems with blogs that Hatto shared with me, I hereby state that while Hatto drives in a way that makes complete sense on the highways of Greece, and despite the fact that sitting in the front seat while he's driving is an overly-exhillarating experience, Hatto is the most generous of friends.

Hatto, his wife Anna, and their friends and family have all treated us with so much welcome, going far out of their way to include us in their Easter and other occasions when we've been in Greece. They have allowed us the great privilege of sharing their lives during our visiits. I truly hope that someday I'll have the opportunity to be as gracious and giving to Hatto as he's always been to George and me. It is an unconscionable failure on my part not to have mentioned this previously.

Of course, those of you who know me know that I'm not the best guest in the world, leaving the toilet seat in the incorrect position when I'm done in the bathroom, leaving my shoes on when I should remove them and taking them off when you wish I would leave them on.

Basta! (Enough!)

Here's the deal:

--my humor is sometimes offensive to all people
--my humor is always offensive to some people
--*I* think I'm funny, and so does my mom
--I'm not the world's most careful observer
--I leave A LOT out, often on purpose
--I wouldn't hurt a fly, unless it makes for a really good story (just kidding! see above comments on humor)

Please don't read my blog if you don't want to. And if you want to and you do and I subsequently annoy, offend, hurt or displease you, please drop me a line --vitriolic or civil -- or call and talk to or yell at me -- take your pick. It's all good and life is short.



Friday, February 24, 2006


Okay, it's been six, no, eight, no... almost nine months since I wrote. A whole lot has happened, of course.

But let's just skip that part for now. Maybe later. If you behave yourselves.

Here we are in Narni, about as far south as you can be in Umbria and still be in Umbria. A rather famously beautiful Umbrian hill town. Photo attached, now that I know how to attach photos.

Our friends Jadrana and Franco from Sucuraj in Croatia found us our little house in Narni. This is where they live when they're not in Sucuraj.

And please don't yank my chain about the Narni/Naria thing, okay? Narni originally WAS named Narnia, way back in the long, long ago. And in recent months, Narni made it onto the tourist trail, at least for Americans because of the release of the blockbuster movie. According to our friends here, all the business owners in Narni were ecstatic. At the time, I explained that in true American mass culture fashion, the stream of new visitors would peter out in no time, but how to explain a beautiful Italian hill town that has survived for two and a half millenium getting 3 of its fifteen minutes of 'fame'?

By the time we got here just before Valentine's Day (did I mention that St. Valentine was BORN in Narni and is its patron saint?) the weird Americans looking for lions, witches and wardrobes were all gone and things were back to their quiet mid-winter normalcy.

So. Our house in Narni. It was constructed in the 14th or 15th century, has been remodeled within living memory, although the 1970's bathroom is ... well, let's just say that Italian bathrooms of that era were the lowpoint in Italian design history. Otherwise, it's a sweet little place, with a view over the tile roofs and across the Nera river valley to the cliffs on the other side.

The house is way up at the top of the town, just below the fort. It's 200 stairs (that's gradini in Italian) from our house at Via de la Luna, 18 (18 Moon Street) down to the Piazza Girabaldi, where we can buy something for dinner, have a coffee, beg the lady at the newspaper stand to order one copy per day of the Herald Tribune for the 17th time, go to the yarn and fabric store, catch the bus to Narni Scalo (the lower town with more shops and the train station) and otherwise hang out. Of course, it's 200 gradini back up to our house on Moon Street.

Don't think of Narni as a town. Think of it as my charming, Umbrian stairmaster. I've never had an entire town dedicated to the firmness and tautness of my ass before, and frankly, I kind of like it. You'll have to see for yourself.

So far, we've made a day trip into Rome, visited the nearby towns of Amelia and Terni, driven by rental car up to Sestri Levante to reclaim the stuff we left there last year and gotten ourselves more or less comfortable.

Yesterday, we made the first of many pilgramages that we plan to make from Narnia. This one was to the town of Norcia, about an hour on a zippy, windy road through a river gorge to the east. Norcia, as you probably don't know, was the birthplace of St. Benedict, who you probably DO know was the founder of monastacism.

Of course, we didn't go on the Norcia pilgramage on account of St. Benedict. Norcia is also famous as the place where probably the best salumi in all of Italy comes from. If you can make it out of a pig, they do it best in Norcia. If you've got to eat traife (non-Kosher food) Norcia is your town.

Plus. The finest teeny tiny lentils grow nearby.

Plus. You're going to love this, and go ahead and start salivating: Norcia is where the primo truffles in all of Italy are dug up.

The old town center is a kind of squat affair, with thick city walls and squat buildings, nothing more than 2 stories high. Along with the sausages, the lentils, the truffles and Benedict, Norcia is also famous for having bigass earthquakes every several hundred years.

Enough with the tourist prose. The food shops!!!!!!!!!!!! Never have I seen such beautiful food shops. Not fancy like Peck's in Milano or the food halls at Harrod's. But just bountifious meats, truffles, bottles of vino, beautiful pastas and beans and everything else that you can think of, with every shop showcasing the taxidermied heads of wild boars.

We did our best to hit every shop in Norcia, buying the following, which we have to eat because we can't bring any meat products back to the states...

Little tiny picante sausages made with wild boar meat
A thin salami with biggish chunks of fat through it
Another think salami with lots of black pepper
A big fat salami called Grandpa's Sausage, very mild
A piece of Norcia prosciutto, which is drier, silkier and gutzier than the Parma variety
A 2 year old Norcia pecorino cheese
Some farro pasta
Truffle truffles (choco heaven)
And a couple of jars of mushroom sauce for pasta

All before eating lunch at Ristaurante Benito, a really nice place that was full of locals. And I swear to gawd, I have no idea how Italians can eat as much as they do for lunch plus all the wine, plus a shot or three of grappa after and go back to work at 4 in the afternoon.

So for lunch we had:

A platter of Norcia salumi
Fritattina di tortufo (truffle omelette)
Soup of artichokes, garbanzo beans, wild mushrooms in a really rich chicken broth
Roast suckling pig stuffed with truffles
Sauteed cabbage & baby mushrooms
Rosemary roasted potatos
A mezzo of vino rosso

We couldn't manage dessert, but everyone around us was eating chestnut puree with chocolate and whipped cream.

Also everybody around us had fresh pasta with wild boar sauce for their primi, while all we had was zuppa.

We each ate a truffle truffle on the drive home.


Today, Franco, George and I went to the local mercato, where the fresh fish van sells really good stuff every Friday. I bought something for dinner that looked kind of like halibut, but wasn't. Plus, they were selling baby artichokes from Puglia, 10 for 5 euros today.

The way I cook here in Italy is much more Italian than the way I cook in the states. I don't know why.

Here was dinner tonight:

whatever that fish was, marinated in good Umbrian olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and herbs then grilled on the cute little grill with legs in our fireplace

sauteed yellow potatoes (more of that incredible olive oil)

baby artichokes, steamed til barely done, brushed with yes, more olive oil, then grilled on the cute little grill with legs over the coals in the fireplace and drizzled with balsamico

for dessert, another truffle truffle.

I think we may have to drive back to Norcia to buy more truffle truffles at the candy store.



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