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Re-entry…

18 Aug

And it feels so good!

In Italy, August 15 is both a national holiday, Ferragosto, as well as a religious one, Feast of the Assumption. For many Italians, it is also the unofficial beginning of the summer holiday season. Parts of Italy effectively shut down until September, as people head to the lakes, countryside or a coast, or to towns like Cortona which are filled with events.

Since I can’t say this very often, I need to share that our trip over was incredibly smooth.  Flying time was only 8.11 hours and touch down to gate took less than five minutes.

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We arrived to the welcome arms of Carlo and Fernanda and to a delicious homemade lunch.

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Afterward, Carlo accompanied us to check the orto (garden) progress, but lunch and the basket on the counter were a positive telltale sign.

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Although May was cold and rainy, warm sun and sufficient rain since then have made for vibrant green colors, strong vegetables and very huge and happy sunflowers.

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And then on to our house and the familiarity of the view.

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The next night, we were ready to roll and attended the Ferragosto Sagra Della Bistecca, or steak festival, in the parterre with some friends.

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Before:

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During:

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Our table:

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The food… and yes, we did split them!

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The fountain was flowing and the Ol’ Boogies Rockabilly Band was playing,

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so we decided to start dancing,

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while everyone else was in the food queue. Good we came early!

After a lot of dancing and good laughs, and nearing 11 PM, the two guys on the left headed to town to get some Tuscanos, or small Italian cigars,

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while the rest of us stopped by the DJ station. The dance area was empty, so we moved right in.

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Before long, we attracted a large crowd and were soon doing the Macarena!

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I even bought one of the flashing balloons.

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Once the dance area got too crowded, we headed back into town to find the guys. Naturally, we found them at Tuscher with Massimo!

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We joined right in.

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It was 2 AM before our heads hit the pillows.

The next night, Fernanda had us over for dinner. We tried hard to convince her we should go out, but she insisted and treated us to a delicious aperitivo spread including her homemade liver pate. This was followed by roasted pepper risotto, and then stuffed zucchini from the garden and meatballs. Dessert was gelato topped with her homemade cherry sauce. We ate al fresco and my phone was inside, so no photos except one group selfie.

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When we got back to town, a big band was still playing in the piazza.

The next day, Len and I had a Tuscher Sunday, although it was only Saturday. After a long walk, we stopped by for a mid day vino. A bit later, a first old friend stopped by, then another, and so on, until eventually a few of us went to dinner.

And that’s how it goes in Cortona… Food, Friends and Fun. Repeat.

Should you miss one sagra, there’s another right behind. Out with the bistecca on Friday and in with the Porcini on Saturday, although we opted out. Enough sagras for one weekend.

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But as for friends and fun, there’s never too much. In the words of Cyndi Lauper:

Oh girls, they wanna have fun…

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

Cortona Medieval Marriage and Joust

24 Jun

Our last weekend in Cortona was filled with traditional Medieval customs, celebrated annually by the locals.

Saturday evening, the town reenacted the 1397 marriage of Francesco Casali, Lord of Cortona, to Antonia Salimbeni, a noble woman of Siena, complete with flag-throwers, musicians, and a drawing for the shooting order for Sunday’s crossbow competition.

But let’s step back for a moment. Our great friend, Ivan, (Il Pozzo Galleria) has acted in the role of Francesco for as long as anyone can remember, along with his daughter, Marta, who annually serves as the lovely Antonia. We stopped in to see Ivan midday and were fortunate enough to experience not only the intricate detail of their costumes but also the weight.

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And then this… gym shoes and all!

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It’s hard to describe the beautiful detail, complexity and weight of these costumes, and true to form, the evening would be the hottest of the year! I was sweating just thinking about it. But on to the evening…

Drum roll, please!

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This year, the bride-to-be arrived in a chianina drawn carriage, much to the delight of the patrons.

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After being helped out of her coach by her lord in waiting,

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she was introduced to the appreciative crowds.

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As is customary for all important Cortona events, traditional flag throwers accompanied the ceremony.

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but as if on cue, in came the flame throwers, so it was a perfect ending to a wonderfully entertaining evening.

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As the people dispersed, we bumped into a very hot, tired, but always happy to greet people with a smile, Ivan. 

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Sunday was another hot day, both weather and competition wise for the Archidado. Peccioverardi won after 4 playoffs, 24-23 over S. Andrea.

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Afterward, they paraded around town for their well-fought victory march, carrying the near bulls-eye arrow.

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One final thought about the weekend…

Each year, Ivan tells us it’s his last, yet for those of us who know him, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else could fill his shoes!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medieval Market Cortona

4 Jun

June arrived in Cortona and brought along not only warm sunny weather but also the first of several annual summer festivals. Last weekend was the Medieval Market filled with games, costumes, food, shops and entertainment. Here’a a sampling…

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And of course, great sunsets,

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and great friends!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Easter Weekend In Cortona

22 Apr

Throughout Italy, Easter week is filled with religious and cultural traditions. Each town has its long-held ceremonies, and Cortona is no exception. Children who held their grandparents’ hands as they were first introduced to the Good Friday procession now carry those same heavy and beautifully crafted statues through the streets of town as their own children watch in awe.

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The solemnity of Friday evening fades Saturday morning as people gather along the streets and in the markets to shop for their Easter meal. Friends are greeted with Buona Pasqua and the double cheek kiss as they exchange pleasantries and best wishes while shopping.

One dessert staple is the Colomba di Pasqua, a traditional Italian Easter cake, which comes in various sizes and a few flavors, but is always shaped like a dove.

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On Easter Sunday, although most cook and eat at home with family, there are also many restaurants offering multi-course traditional meals.

And then comes La Pasquetta, Easter Monday, or Little Easter. This is a national holiday when families pack up Easter leftovers, head to parks or beaches for picnics, or stroll around towns like Cortona. And stroll they do. I always need to remind myself to slow down on these days.

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La Pasquetta is a time for relaxation, and a midday Aperol Spritz seems to be the colorful  beverage of choice for many.

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Amid the crowds and festivities, we always manage to find time for quiet walks, alone or with friends, taking in some views that newly trimmed trees now offer,

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as well as the magnificent signs of spring.

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And then, of course, there are the sunsets, with or without aperitivo, no description needed.

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Happy Easter, Passover, and Spring!

Ciao
Judy

 

 

Re-entry!

11 Apr

We returned to Cortona over two weeks ago, and we’ve been busy.  While sometimes it seems as though we have the town to ourselves, 

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the weekends remind us that Cortona is a “happening” place.

Occasionally, however, there are “happenings” we’d rather avoid.

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We managed to get “fined” on a 10 minute bus ride from Camucia to Cortona. Longer story shortened, our to-and-from rides were all on one ticket, which we validated each way. However, we didn’t realize, or frankly just forgot, that we had to validate the single ticket twice each way, and consequently, we were fined by the very occasional inspectors who boarded our bus one stop from Piazza Garibaldi, our final destination. Yes, we paid for both of us, and yes, we thought we had correctly validated the ticket, but none of that mattered. Word to the wise: validate, validate, validate, or pay 60 euros!!!

But as always, our days and nights are filled with great friends and great food, some  shown here.

During our second week, we spent several days in Lucca. Although it rained each day, we were able to walk the wall, do some sight seeing, visit with a friend, and find some great restaurants.

On the way back, we stopped in Firenze as we had been invited to visit the Carabinieri Training School. Len just couldn’t resist.

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A few days ago, we drove with friends to a medieval town in Umbria called Narni. There are hundreds of towns like this in Italy, each with its own history and legends, and usually an interesting fact for which they are known. For Narni, it is being very close to the geographic center of Italy.

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On Monday of this week, we picked up our car, this time a Fiat Panda.

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The weather has not been great, but mostly I feel like her… I’m here and I’m happy!

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And today, before the rains fell, we drove through the Tuscan countryside, as if driving through a painting, and witnessed, once again, the stunning landscape and the ever-spectacular views that always bring a smile to my face. 

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Ciao,
Judy

How Does our Orto (Garden) Grow?

17 Aug

With warm sunny days, sufficient rainfall, and tender loving care, “our” garden grew from this at the end of April…

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to this in August!

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After giving a thumbs up to the garden’s success, Len decided to take in some sun and enjoy a Toscano, a small Italian cigar (that actually doesn’t smell bad),

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while Fernanda and I were ready to pick, baskets in hand.

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We filled our baskets with three of the four varieties we had planted…

Ciliegino (Cherry)

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San Marzano

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Camone

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and the not quite ready, Cuore di Bue (Beef Steak)

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We also picked susine (plums) from the brimming trees that not only keep the orto from scorching in the summer sun,

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but also provide fruit for delicious marmellata.

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Then it was time for our “casual” county lunch ~

Our Al Fresco Menu included:
freshly cut prosciutto and sliced melon;
hand-picked tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and garden basil;
just cooked porchetta from the market;
cannelloni beans sautéed in fresh tomatoes;
Toscana Rosso di Montalcino

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Talk about farm to table –  and so much more rewarding since we are the planters, pickers and very fortunate eaters!

After lunch, it was time for some serious relaxation.

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Little did we know two years ago how incredibly rewarding this small garden would be. How does our garden grow? Well, we may not be experts, and the local farmers still offer much advice, but for us, everything about the orto is perfectly wonderful, perfectly delicious, and so proudly our own doing. We just can’t help but smile!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Egg-ceptional!

25 May

Ok, I am ruined. We have all heard of farm to table. Wonderfully fresh food from local farms delivered to nearby restaurants. Delicious!

But have you ever tasted warm fresh eggs, right from the hen?? Nothing compares. As you might expect, they are “nonconformists”, with differences in size, color, speckling, etc. And those golden yokes – just delicious. You truly can taste the difference.

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Fortunately for us, we have Italian friends who are happy to share their fresh eggs, and we are most happy to cook them in a variety of ways.

Baked potato, topped with fresh ricotta, covered with fried eggs.

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Scrambled eggs with potatoes, onions, and cherry tomatoes.

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Fried eggs on toast with sliced tomatoes.

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So, I’m ruined. It’s hard to imagine that I can ever purchase a dozen “matching” eggs at a large supermarket again.

But farm fresh eggs – any way we cook them, they are egg-ceptional!

Ciao,
Judy

Celebrating with Friends

23 May


My most heartfelt thanks for all the birthday wishes I received yesterday via hugs, phone and video calls, emails, messages and social media. The best part for me was seeing the names of special people in my life –  family members, relatives, dear friends I’ve known forever and new friends I’ve made along the way.

One of my brothers-in-law suggested that whatever I do, I should share the day in photos, so here are some of the wonderful highlights.

Breakfast at Tuscher:

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Hair Cut at AF:

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Lunch with a few friends (they brought the party items!) at Cafe Braceria Chianina:

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The chef, server and the piping hot grill:

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Shared antipasto:

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Various menu items ordered –  Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil,

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Filet topped with bacon,

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Stuffed rolled turkey breast,

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and my favorite – grilled chicken breast!

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Dessert was self-select, and I managed to only get a photo of the tiramisu.

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After a most leisurely lunch, we headed to Fernanda’s for caffè and sambuca,

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and then Len engaged in his new favorite pastime – small Tuscan cigaros!

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Later in the evening, with no one hungry, we had an impromptu toast or “brindisi” at Tuscher.

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What a perfectly wonderful way to spend my birthday, being utterly relaxed, showered with gifts and loving wishes, including an upcoming CUBS night game from Benita, and sharing it all with dear friends in Cortona. Len said he wishes my next birthday could come sooner, but I’m quite happy to wait another year!

Till then, many many thanks to all who helped make my day so very special, and most especially, this guy.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Mille Miglia Cortona 2018

17 May

Cortona was ready…the Mille Miglia was passing through the town for the first time ever and the spectators eagerly awaited their arrival. Although the main viewing area was Piazza Repubblica, where each car was announced as it arrived,

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each car first had to pass through the adjacent Piazza Signorelli, my first vantage point. I was in place as the first car arrived in this three-day Italy event from Brescia – Roma – Brescia.

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Other cars soon followed. Given that I took nearly 200 photos today, I leaned on Len to help choose a good sampling.

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As the cars passed from one piazza to the next, the delighted crowds cheered and waved flags. I love that some drivers seemed as taken with Cortona as the spectators were with them (see driver in the red sweater!).

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And then the parade continued, sometimes in single file 

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and sometimes in clusters.

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Stopping isn’t as easy as one might think – these cars have mechanical, not power brakes.

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An exception, of course, is this Ferrari pace car which Len said was too beautiful to leave out. Ok, ok.

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I decided to head toward the area where the cars were entering Cortona. On the way, I passed this vintage car on Via Dardano.

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Entering Porta Colonia is a rather tight turn, and I was interested in seeing how the drivers were maneuvering. This driver made it look pretty easy as these cars also have no power steering. 

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However, when I passed through Porta Colonia to Piazza Mazzini, I discovered the answer. The usual parking lot had been turned into a wide turning radius, greatly minimizing not only the tight turn but also the chance for scratches and scrapes.

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And then the cars kept coming and coming and coming. Whatever the final count, the original estimate was around 600 – with such an impressive array of makes, styles, colors, and sizes. 

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Not quite sure I could spend three days/1000 miles in this!

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Kudos to Cortona for making its debut in the 2018 Mille Miglia circuit and for a job well done! 

Arrivederci, Mille Miglia, hopefully we meet again.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

2018 Orto (Garden) Planted!

30 Apr

In a very unanticipated move, we planted the garden yesterday. The original plan was for this Thursday, but the weather outlook was not encouraging with a week of rain and thunderstorms in the forecast.

With Fernanda’s approval (she was at work), Len, Carlo and I headed to the nursery at 3PM to purchase tomato plants.

In late April/early May, hail producing storms can play havoc with small plants in Tuscany, but we were ready and determined to get the garden in before the storms.  After all, we did the same two years ago with great success.

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With two years experience under their belts, Len and Carlo were up to the task.

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They moved quickly and efficiently, re-using the cane from years past to make the trellises.

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My job was to cut the twine, make caffè, and hold things as needed.

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When not needed, I wandered the fields next door. Only this year have I learned that the tall green grassy fields that blow in the wind are actually grain/wheat fields. I had assumed, incorrectly, that wheat would be a tan color, not bright green. These happen to be orzo or barley.

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A close-up reveals the familiar spike at the top of the plant.

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But back to the garden…four zucchini plants and eighteen tomato plants, (four varieties),

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all covered in mesh to hopefully ward off any potential hail damage.

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By 7 PM, the job was done and the full moon showered her approval.

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All in a day’s wonderful work, truly from farm to table (eventually!),

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with, fingers-crossed, a bit of cooperation from Mother Nature!

Ciao,
Judy

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