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Still Saying “I Do!”

30 Oct

Wednesday was the last night in Cortona of our 9th stay, and also happened to be our 30th anniversary. 

We began the day with a wonderful walk through the parterre, bathed in sunshine and enjoying the magnificent October weather and views.

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We ended the evening, surrounded by friends, at our favorite Tuscher Caffè.

We had told Massimo and Daniela we wanted to host a Brindisi D’Anniversario, or Anniversary Toast, with simple finger food…but of course, they always do so much more than expected. 

We arrived a bit early to find Dani and Edoardo making the final touches on the buffet…

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and Massimo ready to open the Prosecco.

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The food was not only delicious, but so creative! 

As we waited for our guests, Len rehearsed his toast. When all had assembled, we took our first group photo. Well done, Francesco!

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After more toasts and eating, Len asked for attention. He began by apologizing for his Italian, but was quickly reassured by the group that his effort was well appreciated. Toasting our friends in his best Italian, he thanked them for their sincere friendship and for making us truly feel that Cortona is our second home.

And then he turned to me, with these words, also in Italian… “You are the butter on my bread and the fire in my heart.” Melted.

While the food was being cleared, we made some attempts at gender photos…

And then we were doubly surprised by the dessert…

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First, that it was a gift from dear friends from Toronto, Carrol and Larry, and second, that all this time I thought I was married to LEN! (Technology can be great as we were able to FaceTime them in Toronto while cutting the cake!)

Such a wonderful evening, full of laughter, smiles, stories, and most of all dear friends. 

30 years ago, 

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And today…

As I reflect on the the past 30 years, what comes to mind most is how blessed we have been and how thankful we are for our loving family, our dear friends, and our ongoing adventures. 

Hoping to get just one more group photo before we departed, we stopped a person walking by outside and asked him to take a photo. It was quickly evident this was not something he was used to doing… with his finger half over the lens and quite shaky!

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But alas, with pure luck, he took this. A little finger shadow top left, but all in all, a great memory of a wonderful evening!

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Many thanks to Daniela and Massimo for their hard work…we so love having parties at Tuscher. And our heartfelt love and thanks to family and friends, whether with us at Tuscher or from far away, for the wonderful anniversary wishes. I hope they all do come true and that we have many more years to celebrate.

And yes, after 30 years, I am still saying “I Do!”

Ciao,
Judy

The 2017 Olive Harvest

23 Oct

Every year, around mid to late October, many Cortonese hope to begin harvesting their olives. I use the word hope because Mother Nature plays a huge role in the success of the harvest. While 2015 was a bountiful year, the complete opposite was true for 2016 due to the dreaded mosca (fly).  And this year, the 2017 harvest was severely limited by the drought…hence,  small quantity but good quality olives depending on the location of one’s olive grove.

Nonetheless, October begins the eagerly anticipated time “olio nuovo” (new oil) signs begin to appear in restaurants and stores. And it is also a time when locals invite friends to celebrate their production. Lucky for us, friends invited us to dinner last night, but didn’t tell us they had already been to the frantoio (mill) to begin processing their olives.

As soon as we entered the cantina, we knew we were in for a treat. The bright green color and the light peppery taste of freshly pressed olive oil is unlike that of any other oil.

 

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Lapo and Paola like to call this a peasant dinner – simple and fresh food picked from the garden or locally sourced, all designed to highlight the taste of the new oil.

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New oil is traditionally first tasted as a bruschetta  – toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with the oil. We each made our own. Delicious.

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We also added the oil to a dash of salt in tiny bowls – a wonderful dip for fresh vegetables from the garden.

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Next came what Len calls an Italian version of hummus, this one made from ceci (chickpeas), drizzled with the oil and topped with a sprig of rosemary. Can’t wait to try this myself.

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The dish that followed was a type of bread soup, pappa al pomodoro, topped with a drizzle of oil. Simple, delicious and perfect for an autumn evening. 

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Now this is Italy, remember, so you know there is more to follow, and what followed was rosemary roasted chicken and potatoes, with a splash of oil of course!

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Now not all olives are turned into oil, as was the case with these tasty herb and orange marinated olives, served as a side dish.

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For dessert, we were treated to Paola’s delicious torta della nonna, (grandmother’s cake), a traditional Tuscan dessert with a light custard. (I forgot to ask if she added a drop of the new oil to it!) Not being much of a baker, I bought the others at a local pasticceria. 

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So that’s how we celebrate the olive harvest in Cortona, enjoying what Mother Nature provides, combined with the hard work of locals who pick by hand. 

From this…

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to this. Doesn’t get much better.

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Our thanks to Lapo and Paola for an always entertaining and delicious evening together. Complimenti to the cook and grazie for your friendship!

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Ciao,
Judy

Fighting a Cold (raffreddore)

9 Oct

In October, when the night air turns cooler but the days are still warm, Tuscan colds are a plenty. The locals blame it on the change in weather and I’m becoming a believer. But when the sky is bright blue and the weather is in the 70’s, it’s hard to nurse a cold in bed. 

Still, not wanting to spread my germs, we headed to Lago Trasimeno for a walk and lunch. We were also curious about the lake level due to both the summer drought and more recent rains.

What we found didn’t surprise us as Umbria and Tuscany sustained spring and summer months with virtually no rain and intense heat. The lake had not only receded, it actually uncovered sandy beach areas we had never seen before.

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After our walk, we stopped at a caffé for a light lunch, but more so to sit in the warm sun and be mesmerized by the clouds dancing on the ripples across the lake.

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Walking back to the car, I couldn’t help but stop at this structure for a few more photos.

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Tonight for dinner, we made a red and yellow pepper risotto that turned out quite well. 

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All in all, a perfect way to not have a cold ruin a beautiful day! 

Ciao,
Judy

Cortona: Expect the Unexpected

31 Aug

Teatro Signorelli, built in 1854, is an imposing and beautiful theatre gracing the upper part of Piazza Signorelli. Over the years, it has been home to many cultural and theatrical events. Today, in addition to these events, one can see a movie or attend a conference.

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The Teatro’s grand portico also serves several functions, from a place for coffee, lunch or dinner to hosting a wedding reception. Last night it was host to us, a large gathering of friends coming together for dinner. And while the group size was a bit larger than normal last night, these gatherings are a familiar and wonderful way of life in Cortona.

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And while we expected the evening would invariably be fun, little did we know there would be a DJ in  the piazza. As we sat for dinner, the DJ began with some Italian classical music, including Andrea Bocelli singing Nessus Dorma.

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After our first course, however, the tempo changed to disco and we were out of our seats dancing to such classics as I Will Survive, sung by Gloria Gaynor. 

After our second course, many in our group formed a human chain and invaded the piazza below to join others near the DJ.

Even the canines were enjoying the entertainment.

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My favorite moment of the evening was our rendition of Village People’s Y.M.C.A. Every local Italian I know is familiar with the arm moves – Y-M-C-A– and we didn’t miss a beat. Unfortunately, I was too involved myself to get a photo – che pecato!

I did, however, manage to get a great group photo. 

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Thanks to our “organizers” and Caffe del Teatro Signorelli for such a fun and memorable evening filled with good friends, good food, and some unexpected and much appreciated good music!

Ciao,
Judy

 

How Does My Orto (Garden) Grow?

26 Aug

Many have asked me that question, especially due to the unrelenting heat wave and lack of rain in Tuscany. In Italian, the saying goes, “non c’è male” or not bad, and that’s my answer. Not great, and not poorly, simply not bad, especially compared to what I’ve seen.

Usually in late summer, sunflowers look like this…

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This year, they look like this.

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As for the orto, since it is small, it has been watered and has some shade. While not nearly producing the quantity of last year,

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it’s not barren either.

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And although small, the tomatoes still taste delicious.

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So while I enjoy them,

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I’ll dream of sunflowers and hope they return healthier than ever next year.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Reconnecting

23 Aug

Ever since we arrived in Cortona, lyrics of Andrew Lloyd Webber keep playing in my head:

Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye

When people ask how long we are on vacation, we reply that Cortona is truly our second home.

I know my way around here
The cardboard trees, the painted scenes, the sound here
Yes a world to rediscover
But I’m not in any hurry  (I know my way around here)

But first our trip.

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We departed Chicago on a new 777-200 at 5 p.m. The pilot said we’d make great time – less than 9 hours non-stop. But around two hours into the flight, he advised us that a light was on, our plane was unable to fly across the ocean, and we’d be landing in NY to change planes. It was 5 hours before we took off again. If there was any good news, it was that we were upgraded and actually slept a few hours before landing in Rome. 

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Three hours later we were home in Cortona.

Although the tourists change, the wonderful sights, sounds, and smells remain familiar and constant. And best of all, so do the people. We are quickly immersed in this wonderful town, greeted with genuine smiles, warm embraces and greetings of ben tornato  – welcome back!

With deference to Mr Weber, I’d like to modify a few of his words in parens:

The lively (whispered)  conversations in overcrowded piazzas (hallways)
The atmosphere as thrilling here as always
Feel the early morning happiness (madness)
Feel the magic in the making
Why everything’s as if we never said goodbye

It took just two nights to be back in a familiar Italian setting – a large dinner with some friends.

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And while most things remain the same, the weather has taken a toll. From a 0° freeze last April to scorching summer heat with no rain, all vegetation has been severely affected.

When we left in June, our views of the hills were lush and a deep verdant green.

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Today, sadly, they are scorched.

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How much this will affect the grapes is not clear, but the olive oil harvest will definitely suffer. Many people we know will not be picking olives this year.

But neither rain nor sun will deter the Cortonese, who pack much into the summer months.

Cortona on the Move International Photography Festival is in full swing, occupying 8 historic buildings, some rarely open, as well as a photo exhibit in the parterre (park). More on these as we visit the exhibits. 

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The Cortonantiquaria, a national antiques exhibition market, is in the lovely 18th century Palazzo Vagnotti.

Various food festivals, called sagra, are held weekends through the summer. The Porcini Sagra was last weekend in Cortona’s parterre.

So much more to come, but for me, Cortona is always about the people, both local and international friends, who make this wonderful town home. 

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With gratitude to Andrew Lloyd Weber for helping me share what’s in my heart:

Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye

Ciao,
Judy

S. Margherita Festival Cortona

21 May

This weekend, the people of Cortona celebrated the feast of S. Margherita, Cortona’s patron saint, and kicked off the two weeks of the Medieval Giostra dell’Archidado.

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Events began Friday night with the Colata dei ceri, or the casting of the candles, a religious practice that dates back to 1325. At the time, wax was collected and used by churches for candle making and also sold as a source of income.

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Locals dressed in traditional costumes of the time and processed into Piazza Repubblica accompanied by drummers and flag bearers.

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S. Margherita was eventually led into the piazza

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and a few events from her life were reenacted.

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If you look closely in the pink part of the photo, you will see a headsman or executioner. After Margherita was willing to sacrifice her life in place a convicted criminal, her followers cried out, “She is a saint!” and the criminal’s life was spared.

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Saturday was the Offerta dei ceri or the offering of the candles. Large candles were carried into the piazza and blessed by the bishop.

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Each quartiere or neighborhood of Cortona was represented in a procession that portrayed nobility, religious and workers of the time.

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Following the blessings, the flag bearers delighted the crowds with their skills.

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Then the candles were taken to the Basilica of Santa Margherita.

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On Sunday morning, several masses were held at the Basilica. We walked up Via Santa Croce…

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where beautiful mosaics of the stations of the cross are built into the wall.

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S. Margherita died in 1297 in a room behind the old church where she had lived the last years of her life. Over the years, the beautiful Basilica of Santa Margherita was rebuilt in her honor.

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Her body is preserved in a silver casket on the altar. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 16 May 1728.

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On my way out of the Basilica, I turned once again to admire its beauty, said one more quick prayer, and as I headed toward the door, a gust of wind blew it open. Really.

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Such a wonderful weekend and such an interesting way to understand and celebrate this important part of Cortona’s history.

Ciao,
Judy

2017 Orto Planting

6 May

Finally, finally, our plants are in the orto, or vegetable garden. We waited two weeks later than last year due to cold weather and are so happy we did. We have some friends who planted in April and now need to replant due to frost and a recent 0° night. In fact, we know several people whose fruit trees suffered a lot of damage and now won’t produce fruits like figs, apricots, cherries, etc. this year.

It’s hard to believe this small bunch of plants will populate Fernanda’s orto…
12 tomatoes (4 varieties); 12 red onions; 4 zucchini.

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As you might recall, four of us, all novices, planted a vegetable garden last spring at our friend’s home in the country. And here’s a reminder of last year’s success!

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Having set the bar pretty high, and wanting similar results, some advice was sought (“offered”) from more skilled neighbors. It’s a funny thing about “orto rules”…there seem to be as many as there are vegetable gardeners. In addition, Italians who live in the country are known to have superstitions about doing things on certain days of the week – but we didn’t let that bother us.

First step was for Len and Loreno to count off the space needed for the tomato plants.

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Once measured, building of the cane structure commenced. There was some “debate” this year about teepee style (last year’s) vs. box style, but after much consideration, box style won.

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Looks like a tying lesson is going on here.

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Tomato plants were added, water troughs dug, and once completed, the perfectly aligned tomatoes looked like this.

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Then the onions and zucchini were planted in the rear of the garden where there are also garlic and artichoke plants, hardier plants which had been planted earlier in the season.

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After a very productive afternoon, Fernanda treated us to a delicious dinner and the day treated us to a beautiful sunset.

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When your daily view looks like this…

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how can you not want to plant your own orto?

Here’s to our orto trio, our hard-working contadini (farmers)…can’t wait to enjoy the fruits of your labor!

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Ciao,
Judy

Pasqua and Pasquetta

17 Apr

Yesterday throughout Italy, families and friends gathered after mass for warm hugs, long Easter lunches and lively conversation. Intermittent rain showers didn’t dampen any spirits, although we were happy we ate inside.

We joined some friends at their beautiful home just past Pergo, a short ride from Cortona. We’ve been before, but it is always a pleasure to return as the setting is incredible.

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Len, of course, needed to check out the 1975 Fiat 500 parked in the drive.

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The house, built in the late 1700’s, was originally a farm-house, but is now a beautifully restored/renovated home with guest house, covered pool, garage and incredible 360° views, (and it is on the market as grandchildren live too far away!)*

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We began on the terrace with a Prosecco toast.

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Then lunch was served in the dining room.

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Unfortunately, I missed taking photos of the delicious chicken with gorgonzola lunch, but desserts included a traditional Easter colombo – a dove shaped cake…

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as well as fresh strawberries and cream on sponge cake.

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After a few attempts, we even managed to take a timed selfie.

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Afterward, some of us took a leisurely stroll around the property, admiring the views…

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while others retired to the terrace.

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Many thanks to our gracious hosts, shown in a photo I took of them on our last visit.

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Pasqua and Pasquetta, Easter and Easter Monday, two holidays in Italy, the first religious, the second not. Once again today, Cortona was packed with people. In fact, both yesterday and today, there were traffic jams.

But today, Pasquetta, is a day set aside for relaxation. All the solemnity and preparation of Easter are over, and it is a day to relax, except, of course, for restaurants and retail shops who serve the masses of people enjoying a day off.

Strolling is the norm, so strolling we did. The park was filled with people,

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taking in the views.

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Others were enjoying entertainment in the piazzas, including the Old Florence Dixie Band,

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and just appreciating the beautiful day.

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Between the park and the piazza, we found an empty park bench and literally put our feet up as we took in the view.

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Late afternoon, we headed home for a brief riposo (rest) before meeting friends for dinner.

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And that’s what one does in Cortona for Pasqua and Pasquetta, a perfectly lovely few days.

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Ciao,
Judy

*Note: Many have asked me what the inside of an Italian house looks like. If interested, you can see more photos via the listing link below.

http://www.abodeitaly.com/property/68c/tuscany/casa-giordano-piazzano/arezzo/farmhouses-and-count/4-bedrooms

 

 

Easter in Cortona

15 Apr

In cities and towns all over Italy, religious processions are held during Easter week. Many churches have large statues and crosses that are carried on the shoulders of locals in Holy Week processions through city streets.

Last night, Good Friday, Cortona held its annual Procession of the Stations of the Cross. Signs in English were all over town to remind visitors that this is a solemn event.

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The procession began at 9 PM at the Church of Spirito Santo, a 17th-century church built just outside the medieval walls of Cortona. For those of you familiar with Cortona, picture the church beyond the bottom of steep Via Guelfa and out the wall’s entrance. Noting this is important because the route the procession takes is pretty amazing…either steeply uphill or down, and very rarely flat. (*See below for more of route.)

We waited for the procession at the Church of Saint Francis with others who had lined the steps.

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The Stations of the Cross were being read over a loud-speaker as the procession moved through parts of town.

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Local children were as involved as their parents.

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A group of strong women carried the statue of the Blessed Mother.

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After reaching its highest point, the procession came down Via S. Margherita toward Via Nazionale.

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The final destination was Piazza Republicca, where the statues were placed on platforms.

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At about 10:30 PM, religious dignitaries gathered at the top of the Municipio and a local bishop led all in prayer before the choir sang.

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A year ago, Len and I were in Trapani, Sicily, for their incredible Misteri di Trapani, a 24 hour procession. It was large and dramatic, with musicians and choirs accompanying each heavy statue carried on the shoulders of dozens of men. But Trapani is flat, and Cortona is anything but. So, while Cortona’s procession was smaller, with less music and drama, it was nonetheless incredible to see the procession maneuver through the ancient town. Whether elaborate or small, dramatic or simple, it is each town’s commitment to carrying out tradition that matters.

Today, Saturday, Cortona is bustling with people, here to participate in the Easter weekend. I’m told there is a midnight mass tonight at the Duomo, and masses at various times and churches tomorrow.

The smells of special Easter breads and pastries fill the spring air, and tomorrow most Italians will gather around large lunches with their families and friends to celebrate Easter, as will we.

In Italy, the Monday after Easter is also a holiday called Pasquetta. Though not a religious holiday, Pasquetta is another day for family and friends to gather and also spend some relaxing time outdoors. It was introduced by the government after World War II.

Wherever your plans may take you, a gathering big or small,
I wish you a very Happy Easter – Buona Pasqua to all!

Ciao,
Judy

*Note: for those wanting more on the route,  I believe it was up Via Guelfa, connecting to Via Ghini, up the very steep Via Maffei to San Francesco Church, on past the old hospital to Via S. Margherita, down through Piazza Garibaldi to Via Nazionale and finally ending in Piazza Republicca.

 

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