Winter in Umbria ~ Week 2

The week began with yet another grey, drizzly, dismal day, and I really was feeling worse since my cough had now migrated upwards and I had a head cold to go along with my nasty cough. I will admit I had second thoughts about us spending seven weeks in Umbria in the middle of winter at that point, but I did my best to put them aside and look ahead.

There is a bar just down the hill from us in Acquasanta that we had been told offered a great lunch for a reasonable price and in fact, we had already dined there three times, thoroughly enjoying each meal. We had never visited the bar for a morning cappuccino though which we were told is the best in the area, so thought we needed to check it out.

Italians take their coffee very seriously, so if you are told a bar makes great coffee, you can rest assured it is true. Having made the mistake of buying ground coffee Saturday (our new, amazing machine it seems takes only whole beans) and being a person who NEEDS their morning coffee we headed to Sylvana’s for her “famous” coffee.

It was indeed a good, if not a great cappuccino, served in a pretty traditional Deruta ceramic cup and saucer. We shared a “brioche con marmalata”, an delicious Italian style croissant filled with marmalade jam, drank our coffee and headed to the local farmacia to see if we could find something to improve my cough/cold although I wasn’t expecting miracles. In Italy, the local farmacia always seem to be busy with lines of folks filling prescriptions or asking the pharmacist for advice.

Surprisingly the medication recommended made me feel much better and once I was feeling better I headed back into my kitchen to “play” the rest of the afternoon away, or at least what I consider play ……. other folks might call it cooking.

Tuesday morning arrived and I lay in bed I listening to wild winds beating against the house. Today was the day the electrician was to come to lay the lines for our new satellite to bring us internet and I was instantly dismayed thinking there was no way he would come out to work in this weather.

The plan had been to lay the lines along the ones the television satellite used, but the smaller internet satellite would have to be raised above the olive trees on a pole to obtain the best signal. Was it really a smart idea to hang a small satellite on a pole 25 or more feet in the air when we had winds like this? If the electrician could not lay the lines the internet could not be hooked up on Thursday and I must admit I was starting to go into internet withdrawal.

Scary as it sounds I found myself getting very restless and fidgety when I started to think about the emails I am missing, or the fact I haven’t checked my website in over a week. I even miss Twitter, and can’t wait to get back and follow my favorite folks there. If there is such a thing as internet addiction, I honestly think I must have it. My husband has wanted to find an internet cafe over the last few days which would at least allow us to check email, but I felt going cold turkey and staying away from the web for a bit would be good for me. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea?

Later that day…….I am happy to report that our electrician did indeed show up and managed to lay the lines to allow us to have the satellite put in place on Thursday (fingers crossed it actually works!). Just two more days to wait until I could actually get back online! While he was at the house the electrician also planned to change the codes to our remote control gates, as well as the alarms to both houses.

Since it seems every other person in the region has had access to both houses either when they were being built or in the four years since, changing all the codes as well as all of the locks seems prudent. He ran out of time however so will have to return for the changing of the codes.

I must admit, the longer I live in our new community the more respect for Italian women I have. Every morning, despite the cold temperatures, we see little Nonna’s all bundled up to keep warm, walking along the road to the local grocery store and back home again with their daily provisions.

Some must walk miles to the closest store, but off they go to buy what they need to feed their family. Also, every morning it seems that every house in the neighborhood has a fresh load of wash hung outside no matter how early we pass by, although how any laundry dries in this drizzly cold weather I am perplexed to understand. In the afternoon, after lunch has been prepared and the kitchen has been cleaned, we see older women walking up and down our road collecting kindling for their fireplaces.

I can’t help but wonder where the old Nonno’s are while the women do all the work? My husband stated (jokingly I hope) that they must be having their afternoon siestas, or are busy playing cards at the local bar and chatting with their friends. Mmmmmm….

Our days are falling into a routine of sorts. My husband rises early and makes a fire in our fireplace, watches Italian news and feeds, and then walks little Luca (our 5 lb. Yorkie) around our yard. I on the other hand have been sleeping in until 7:30, 8, even as late as 8:30 am, despite the fact I am in bed by 10 pm.

I have never slept this much in my entire adult life, as my body is usually quite happy to get by very well on about 6 to 7 hours a sleep a night. Perhaps I am sleeping so much because I am still fighting off this nasty cough and cold, or perhaps it is simply that with the wooden shutters in our bedroom closed for the warmth, even at 8 in the morning our bedroom is as dark as midnight. Combine the darkness with the fact I am burrowed under our comfy, cozy, warm down comforter, maybe my body has simply decided it is hibernating for winter!

After finally rising, usually after my husband has checked a couple of times to see if I am still alive, I enjoy my customary two cappuccinos from my amazing new coffee machine, shower and dress for the day. Most of the appointments for the house seem to be scheduled for the mornings so we generally spend the first part of each morning waiting on someone to arrive. We actually have been very happy that the Italians so far have all been on time which is completely different from the experience we had when we lived in Milano.

After whatever needed to be done for the house has been completed, we usually have just enough time before the stores close for lunch to hit the local grocery or hardware store, or often both. Luckily for us, in the past 15 years Italians have embraced the idea of “Do It Yourself” stores which seem to be everywhere. I think we have visited the hardware store closest to us in Marsciano 6 times since we have been here this visit, and in fact when the cashier realized how frequently we were visiting her store, she offered us their preferred customer card. After our morning shopping we generally head back home for lunch.

In most of Italy, and particularly anywhere outside of the larger cities, closes down between the hours of 12:30 and 3:30. Generally, the only thing left open at this time are restaurants, and the occasional “continuous hours” grocery store which are few and far between in our area. We usually enjoy a hearty bowl of soup for lunch and then preform chores around the farmhouses, often indoors if it is raining which has so far been most of the time it seems.

Late afternoon when the shops begin to open again, we usually head out to a few more stores, most often to one selling furniture, lights, or carpets, to attempt to complete the process of furnishing both houses. Italy has sales twice a year, and on January 7th, one of the annual sales began and every retail store seems to have something on sale. Since we need furniture (as well as everything else one needs to furnish a house), we are attempting to hit the stores before the sales end at the end of the month. Unfortunately, most of the furniture sold is quite modern in design which would look out of place in a farmhouse.

The few more traditional pieces we have come across look like they need to be in some Nonna’s parlor with crocheted doilies placed on the arms and covered in plastic. (Those of you with Italian grandmothers will understand this reference) It has been frustrating, but we are finally, slowly finding things for our houses that will fit in with the ambience of a farmhouse and be comfortable to live with.

After our afternoon shopping we generally head back home exhausted just in time to prepare dinner and watch a couple of hours of Italian television, which it seems has not improved a bit since we left Italy 15 years ago. We really need to get hooked up to our Sky television satellite that is sitting all alone in our back yard waiting. (This happened later in the week. YEAH)

It is Thursday morning and I am patiently (or so I tell myself) waiting for the technician to come set up our satellite for the internet and hook up our wireless. I have been without internet for over 11 days (actually 11 days, 5.5 hours but who is counting?) now and am beginning to feel very uncomfortable and disconnected from my usual world.

We were told if it wasn’t raining he would be here late morning and thankfully we are having a rain free day but heavy fog has been rolling in and out since day break. Every so often we actually see the sun peak out so I am hoping the fog may burn off at some point and give us one more sunny day. If all goes well, at some point today I will once again be able to go online any time I choose, but what I am really happy about is that we expect to be able to hook up the rental house to it’s own wireless internet which would be great for visitors like me who cannot travel without their laptops.

Well it happened, and I am back online and feeling much happier with life in general. They have to return tomorrow to hook up the rental house, but I have wireless internet and it actually is pretty fast. I am ashamed to admit that we actually got connected about 1pm, and I spent the next 9 hours apart from a short dinner break getting caught up with my online world……answering emails, updating my website, and checking favorite sites. I even let my husband cook dinner for the first time since we’ve been here and I must say he did a pretty good job of cooking a decent plate of “spaghetti al vongole”!

Friday arrived and we headed over to Corciano where we heard were a number of department type of stores are. We bought a few things but plan to head back there next week once I take better measurements and create a complete list of exactly what we still need. Friday night, the local butcher in Collepepe held his monthly dinner, and my husband signed us up to attend in his need to meet locals (without checking with me first I might add!).

The butcher’s wife is a published Umbrian chef and it is she who plans and prepares the meals for up to twenty folks who sign up to attend to their monthly advertised dinners. The meal is held in a nice dining room above the main building and we were started off with an appetizer plate of locally cured meats each served with a bread created specifically to enhance their flavor and the course was served with an appropriately matched wine.

The second course was a bowl of organically milled polenta flavored with ground cinghiale (wild boar) and local mushrooms. The main course was stewed cinghiale in a delicious sauce served with sauteed greens. The dessert served were two fried pastries traditionally made in the area to celebrate Carnivale. Not surprising, the theme of this dinner was “Cinghiale e Carnivale”. Each course was served with a specific wine matched to enhance the flavor of each course, that was described to us in great detail (much more than I needed!).

Although delicious, I honestly couldn’t tell you the name of any of the wines we were served apart from the fact they were red. OBVIOUSLY, I am not a red wine connoisseur. After dinner, we spoke with the chef and it turns out that not only has her family lived in the area for generations, but that the home she was born in and grew up in used to be on our property. They lived in the old style farmhouse where the family lived on the second story and the animals were kept on the first floor.

We had been looking forward to visiting Perugia Saturday as it holds it’s monthly antique fair at the end of each month, but when we rose that morning it was once again raining. We made the trip to Perugia anyway, and although about half of the stalls were open, most had their tables covered in plastic and it was difficult to see much. We finally gave up trying to find something to buy that we just couldn’t resist, and we headed over to the indoor shopping mall called Collestrada, bought some groceries and signed up for Sky satellite television.

We already had the dish in our backyard, but needed the box and a contract to get the system up and running. We initially planned on having someone come in and set it up for us but decided to try and install it ourselves which might not have been the best idea. It took most of the afternoon, but after a few rocky attempts, we finally had both picture and sound and now get a handful of programs in English as well as many more Italian ones.

It is strange how much pleasure you can get from watching Fox news after two weeks of Italian television! I did discover that Gambero Rosso have their own television channel on Sky and find I am watching it often, enjoying the programs on Italian cuisine and wine, as well as the cooking shows even though all are broadcasted in Italian. Compared to Italian news or talk shows, the discussions are at a much slower pace and I find it a great way to improve my Italian language skills.

Sunday began with yet another rainy, dark sky and seeing the weather I decided immediately that with my cough/cold I would be staying home. My husband was invited to head out for the day to go to a small town near Norcia. called Corscia by bus with the local Collepepe soccer team. They were planning on attending mass at a local monastery, to enjoy a country lunch, and then were to play a soccer game with the local team.

I spent a quiet Sunday on my own at home, catching up with chores, computer work, and of course managed to fit some kitchen time in there as well. When my husband returned after being away all day he reported the soccer game was cancelled soon after it began as the field was just too muddy. He did have an enjoyable day though, although hearing his description it was apparent that lunch was the best part of the day for him!

As we live in our new community we find we are trying to live as much as we can like the local Italians do. Although I cannot imagine hanging out my laundry outside in this cold, drizzly weather, I am hanging as much as I can to dry in my laundry room rather than using the clothes dryer.

The two items I refuse to hang to dry though, are my jeans and our terry cloth towels. I found my jeans become so stiff being hung to dry that I need someone else to wear them for a day to break them in and soften them before I can comfortably wear them myself. (I haven’t found anyone to do this yet I might add!) As for the towels, when hung to dry they seem to develop a crispy texture that I find extremely unpleasant rubbed against cold, wet skin.

The only advantage to drying towels this way is that you create an inexpensive method of exfoliation. Great if that’s what you like, but not my cup of tea. It is bad enough that I am forced to take luke warm showers each day and when I come out of the shower I can actually see each breath I take. I am NOT going to dry off with cold, crunchy towels on top of that! I am constantly having to keep an eye on my laundry though to catch the washing machine when it completes it’s cycle before my husband does, as he will hang everything to dry rather than use the dryer. He doesn’t seem to mind stiff jeans and crunchy towels …… maybe it’s a guy thing?

I have also found that I have absolutely no skills in the area of fire making and sustaining a fire once it has been started. Really, if my Girl Guide (same as Girl Scouts in the US) leader could see me now she would strip me of all of my badges! For some reason, I cannot seem to keep the fire going all day myself and have to continually start a new one from scratch throughout the day. I just get the fire going strong and then I get involved in something else and the fire dies out yet again. Luckily my husband is less challenged in this area than I am so I try and leave this skill up to him.

With him away for the entire day on Sunday, I am embarrassed to admit that I used way too much kindling, and over half of the carton of paper my husband keeps to start our fires, just trying to keep the fire going so I could stay warm. Even Luca, our little dog who spends most of his day bundled in a fleece blanket by the fire kept looking at me accusingly all day as I kept letting the fire die out and then would have to spend 30 minutes or so trying to get a new one lit.

Since we finally have the internet again, we downloaded a new American voice for our TomTom navigation system. She is much easier to understand, but refuses to attempt to pronounce any Italian words, including streets, cities, or towns. Compared to our Italian voice who spoke poor English and never seemed to stop talking, this new voice is very stingy in her instructions and only speaks when it is absolutely needed.

When you type in the address you want, she’ll get you there but apart from “turn left here”, or “keep right”, unless you know the area she could be sending you anywhere. We are now trying to decide which option is better, and I think we both miss our cute “Sophia Loren” voice.

It turned out to be a very productive week for us. We got an Italian cell phone, managed to get connected to the internet, set up our Sky television satellite, and ordered some more furniture, and located other pieces we will return to buy next week. For those who are emailing me asking for photos of the inside of our houses, they are coming I promise.

The house we are living in now is almost empty at present so there really isn’t a lot to see. As we fill up the houses with furniture and decorate, I will indeed post some photos. My favorite spot in the house presently is my large window sill seen in the photo above. The view from this window is wonderful, and it is large enough for me to use as a spot to store my vegetables, to ripen a bowl of tomatoes, and to cool platters of food that I prepare throughout the day.


Deborah Mele
Januar 2009

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