Winter in Umbria ~ Weeks 4 & 5

It is really hard to believe we have been in Umbria for over 5 weeks already and have just 2 left to go before we head back to North America. We have had a few ups and downs throughout our stay, and although I was hoping to have the rental house completely finished before we left, unfortunately work will have to continue after we leave.

When we return in May though, all we will need to do is hang the drapes and finish up the final decorating (fingers crossed). We have all the furniture bought and what hasn’t already been delivered will be upon our return.

The weather has turned cool the past week but with the cooler temperatures came sunshine and clear blue skies so I really do not mind. We can now look out our kitchen window every morning and see beautiful snow capped mountains in the distance. (See photo above) Prior to this change in weather, the mountains were simply dark shapes hovering above the hills in the distance, but now are very clear and oddly, they seem so much closer.

It is difficult to stay indoors with the improved weather, and if we do not have an appointment scheduled, we often jump in the car with Luca and head out for a drive. Our car is so warm for some reason you do not even need the heater on, so as well as an enjoyable ride, we have the added benefit of keeping very warm which is nice for a change! We are thoroughly enjoying driving around Umbria and we love to drive up into the hills and look down into the valleys below.

Before we arrived in Umbria we had arranged to have firewood delivered, and when we first drove up to our house we saw this immense stack of wood piled up under our portico. We both laughed, thinking there was no way we would ever use so much wood in 7 weeks, and my husband started to complain that he would have to drag it all back to the wood shed next to the garage in the spring. To our surprise though, our pile of wood has now dwindled to the point that we may have to buy more to get us through our final two weeks. Who knew you could use so much wood trying to stay warm?

Everyone we have met since arriving here in Umbria has been extremely friendly and they go out of their way to help us. We are constantly getting recommendations about the best area pizzeria, which butcher makes the tastiest sausages, where to buy farmhouse lights, etc.

We were really surprised last week when we bought some patio furniture on a Friday evening and the woman in the store told my husband that if he helped her load her truck with the furniture she would follow us home and deliver it immediately. We did indeed have our new furniture in our garage after this woman followed us home into the hills that night. What I do find amusing though, is that after seeing me (blonde, blue eyed) and hearing my dismal Italian, everyone we meet seems to feel the need to tell us about other “American’s” (we are Canadian) who live in the area.

I am not sure if they expect us to drive the 5 kilometers down the road, knock on the door of these Americans to introduce ourselves, or if they are worried that we won’t be happy living here unless we meet other English speaking residents.

I am constantly on the lookout for animal life around our houses as we are told there are many different creatures living in the forests behind us including deer and wild boar. Although my husband does see evidence that the wild boar have been around as they dig up the grass around our yard at night, we haven’t come across any up close.

We have however seen a couple of porcupines walking along our road, and one evening as we were driving up into the hills to Collazzone for dinner we came across a large owl sitting in the middle of the road. We had to stop and we all looked at each other for a minute or two until he finally flew up into the trees. I am happy though, that the hunting season finally came to a close the end of January.

It was a little distracting to be walking along the road in front of our house and hear the crack of rifles and packs of barking dogs close by. Every time I heard a rifle shot I had the urge to either dive into the ditch for safety or to jump up and down waving my arms and yell, “Don’t shoot!”

My husband has an ongoing love/hate relationship with the two farm cats we inherited. We were asked by the previous owners to continue to feed these cats who have lived here since the houses were built. They are outdoor cats, but are usually hanging around our property somewhere whether they are curled up in a sunny window sill, or climbing across the roof (haven’t figured out what they are doing up there yet!).

The cats do control the rodent population though, and when you live in a farmhouse in the country, mice can be an issue. I have had cats throughout my life and those cats were always clean. These two farm cats however act more like dogs and leave their droppings all over the yard. My husband is always going out to patrol the yards with his handy shovel and pail to clean up after the cats, and I won’t go into details, but I have the feeling they deliberately choose to soil where they do just to aggravate him! Before we actually lived here I had imagined taking these two cats under my wing…..taking them to the vet for shots, building them a shelter, and making friends with them along with my little Yorkie Luca.

It turns out though, that these two cats are more likely to eat Luca than make friends with him, and I can’t even get close enough to touch the cats never mind catching them to drag them off to the vet. I told my husband the situation is like buying a house that already has borders living in it who have a long term lease. You may not like it, but you have to put up with them anyways. We will continue to feed them, and they will pay us back by keeping us rodent free.

One woman we met told us that the folks living here in the country, or small towns in the area are very provincial and rarely stray too far from home. This seems particularly true of the older folks, who shop at the closest grocery, and whose community of friends all live within walking distance.

If we ask folks about restaurants we have heard about in a town 30 minutes away, they will ask why we would drive so far when the restaurants close by are just fine? Not a single Italian we have met in the past month moved to this area from some other region, but instead all were born here as were their parents and even their grandparents. The only new faces moving into the area seem to be foreigners, much to the surprise of the locals. In fact, we are constantly being asked why we chose this area, as though they do not understand why we would actually choose to live here.

We are thoroughly enjoying the exploration of Umbrian cuisine, and although we had planned to try and visit one new town each week and dine at a few new restaurants I have on my list to try, the cold weather has often kept us close to home. We did manage to make it to Spoleto one weekend to browse through their antique market in the pouring rain, and once we were too cold and wet to continue shopping we headed to a local enoteca for a nice lunch. We also returned to Antico Forziere, one of my favorite Umbrian restaurants for a wonderful Valentine’s Day dinner.

We expect to keep very busy over the next two weeks as we finish up the remaining things on our “To Do” list before we fly back to North America. We are also expecting friends to come visit us next week, so I hope the weather is fairly nice so we can show them some of our favorite spots here in Umbria. Although I am looking forward to heading back soon for some Florida warmth and sunshine, I will miss our country life, and look forward to returning in a few months to spend the summer here in the Umbrian countryside.

Deborah Mele
February 2009

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