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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

It is just so incredible, so stunning, so surprising despite its frequency this amazing Italian generosity, embracing character, genuine friendliness. My god we are humbled. We have been here two weeks and in that time we have been comped something – wine, dessert, coffee – at least a dozen times. It’s not that we aren’t generous in the United States, but the level of it here on a very personal level is – well, humbling.

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The prosecco was given to us as we sat down

You have to earn it, no question. And it springs from a genuineness on our part, but their response knocks your socks off. We don’t expect it and we don’t do it because we expect or hope for a certain response. That is why we are so humbled.

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Filet, roasted potatoes, chickory

I don’t want to discount the generosity of all who have shown it this past two weeks. But Cristian is over the top. We have been to his restaurant four times since we’ve between here and he has comped is two of  those meals. He comped our first meal – we always  have our first and last dinner with him. And he comped us last night’s dinner – kristi’s birthday. I’m sorry, but where would you get that treatment in the U.S.?

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Julia with Kristi and our panna cotta

This is why we love Italy, and Orvieto. Yes, we have been coming here for 14 years but the same longevity doesn’t translate in America. I’m not being critical, I’m just pointing out a beautiful characteristic of this sweet town that still amazes and stuns me.

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Julia, Cristian, and Rolanda our Trattoria d'Aronne family

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Italy has wonderful food. It varies by region, is not just spaghetti or pizza. Here is a little tour of our food from the last few days to give a sense of the variety and how beautiful it is.

We love eating with “The boys” at Vin Caffe.

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Most people go to Vin Caffe for a beer or wine, but they also have excellent light food. If ordering a drink they always bring a wonderful, ever-varied plate of appetizers as this one here.

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Two soups. One is a lentil-bean. The near one is a chickpea soup with bacala – salt codfish. Oh so good!

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Still at Vin Caffe, a mixed salad, buffalo mozzarella which is the silkiest, most divine mozzarella you can imagine, and a plate of radicchio with cheese and bread that has been put under the broiler. Oh my!

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We are now at Folk Osteria. Folk has innovative, nontraditional food, which is a sheer pleasure if you want something different. Here is prima salata pecorino cheese with tomatoes and asparagus. The cheese is made from sheep milk and is creamy. In front, a stew made from chickpeas and legumes served in a bread bowl.

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On to Bartolomei where, with our groups, we do our first night food and wine pairing. Faro salad, prosciutto and melon. Not pictured a barley soup.

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Mushroom pizza at Bistrotters which has Orvieto’s best pizza. Super thin, crispy crust, light sauce.

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La Palomba is a traditional restaurant known for their use of truffles. Here we have chicoria, a kind of green, a mixed salad, lamb, and a steak in red wine sauce.

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Or favorite restaurant is Torre Moro d’Aronne where our good friend Christian holds forth. Simply the best. Here eggs with asparagus baked in the oven, eggplant meatballs which you would swear is meat, and chicoria again.

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Desserts are killer, and if you can’t decide, head to the street and get gelato!!

Then there is the market. We do lots of picnics with our groups because it is light and we get such fresh produce.

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We also get salads for our picnics from Montanuccia’s

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Then you have to finish or start the day with coffee!

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So much food, such good food!!

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Crying While Laughing

I find it difficult to put into words why it is people love Italy so much. There are many reasons why, but there is something visceral that defies definition. I read recently this little bit from Mark Nepo:

I must tell you of an old man I know who came here from Italy. He’s spent his life working as a plumber. He is a good, sweet man, and when he laughs, which is often, he cries, no matter who’s around or whether or not anyone understands. He lives out loud.

“He lives out loud.” What a perfect description of one of the reasons people love Italy. Italians do live out loud. Meaning they live fully, robustly, no holds barred. You see it when they use hands and voice to talk animatedly. You see it in their passion for food and for wine that is selected to complement food. You see it when all ages walk arm-in-arm down the street talking intimately with each other, oblivious to everything around them.

We laugh out loud on our trips too!

We laugh out loud on our trips too!

We in the U.S. carry with us a good bit of that Puritan ethic that so many of our founding mothers and fathers brought over the sea with them. We are an outgoing people and it is one of the things other cultures find both enjoyable and annoying about us. The difference between Italians and us I think is that there is still a reserve in us, a caring about what others think of us, that “be good or else” upbringing we’ve had. These characteristics seems to be absent in Italians. They’ll cry while they laugh regardless of what people think. They live out loud. Great description. What a great way to be!

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More Heat

Following up on yesterday’s post about the book Heat, which I finished last night. The author, Bill Buford, is summing up his experience in Italy, and he talks about food there and as it is done modern day.

My theory is one of smallness. Smallness is now my measure: a variation on all the phrases I’d been hearing, like the Maestro’s “it’s not in the breed but the breeding” or Enrico’s “less is more.” As theories go, mine is pretty crude. Small food – good. Big food – bad. For me the language we use to talk about modern food isn’t quite accurate or at least doesn’t account for how this Italian valley has taught me to think. The metaphor is usually one of speed: fast food has ruined our culture; slow food will save it. You see the metaphor’s appeal. But it obscures a fundamental problem, which has little to do with speed and everything to do with size. Fast food did not ruin our culture. The problem was already in place, systemic in fact, and began the moment food was treated like an inanimate object – like any other commodity – that could be manufactured in increasing numbers to satisfy a market. In effect, the two essential players in the food chain, (those who make the food and those who buy it) swapped roles. One moment the producer (the guy who knew his cows or the woman who prepared culatello only in January) determined what was available and how it was made. The next moment it was the consumer. What happened in the food business has occurred in every aspect of modern life and the change has produced many benefits. I like island holidays and flat-screen televisions and have no argument with global market economics, except in this respect – in what it has done to food.

The watery eggs Gianni bought when he fell asleep after lunch: big food. Granny’s eggs sold under the counter to Panzano regulars: small food. Th pig I brought home on my scooter: Small food. A ham from a chemically treated animal that has spent its life indoors in a scientifically controlled no-movement pen (every cut perfectly identical as though made by a machine): big food.

The Italians have a word, casalinga, homemade, although its primary sense is “made by hand.” Just about every preparation I learned in Italy was handmade and involved my learning how to use my own hands differently. My hands were trained to roll out dough, to use a knife to break down a thing to make sausage or lardo or po;pettone. With some techniques, I had to make my hands small. With others, I made them big. With hands, cooks express themselves like artists.

And perhaps that is the difference: food made with your own hands, reflecting care and investment and love. It is unrealistic to think we will go back or that we can feed the numbers we have to feed otherwise. But we can at least make conscious choices. We can shop local, support local farmers, buy in season. Thankfully, this seems to be happening. Buon appetito!

Making food by hand

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Two Continents, Two Homes

I left Orvieto with some sadness a couple days ago. I miss the intimacy in all its many forms. It is a uniquely beautiful place for us to be, to live, to relish.

Then this morning, Mark Nepo, as he so often does with The Book of Awakening, spoke to me. First he quotes Tejo-Bindu Upanishad:

To direct the mind towards the basic unity of all things and to divert it from the seizing of differences – therein lies bliss.

Then Nepo writes:

The eye can see what we have in common or focus on what keeps us apart. And the heart can feel what joins us with everything or replay its many cuts. And the tongue can praise the wind or warn against the storm, can praise the sea or dread the flood.

It’s not that there are no differences – the world is made of infinite variety – rather it is the seizing of differences, the fearing of differences, that keeps us from feeling grace.

Paradoxically, everything in life touches the same center through its uniqueness, the way no two souls are the same, yet every soul breathes the same air.

When we fall into the illusion that one creation is better than another, we remove ourselves from the miracle of being and enter what the sixth century sage Seng-Ts’an called he mind’s worst disease: the endless deciding between want and don’t want, the endless war between for and against.

So, do I focus on the differences between Orvieto and here? Last night as the setting sun streamed into our oh so cozy living room I was warmed by the richness of our life here. And  I think, “How lucky am I? Two homes, two continents. Different, yet each uniquely beautiful. How lucky am I?”

Orvieto’s intimacy

Cozy Morganton home

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Masculine and Feminine

Read another thoughtful piece from Mark Nepo today. And it highlights in yet another way what it is Italy does for us. In his piece Nepo talks about our male side – rational, stoic, never showing our feelings, and the female side – our deeper, creative, receptive self. He said:

Where I was taught to understand and names things, I now experience and feel things. Where I was taught to frame and articulate things at arm’s length, I now embrace and absorb what is before me. This framing and naming at arm’s length is part of how we have all been encased since childhood in a masculine way of seeing that, out of balance, is dry and uninformed by any passion for life.

The difference is between painting a bird and flying. Too often under the guise of being asked to be prepared and mature, we are seduced into watching over living, into naming over feeling, into understanding over experiencing.

Most of us arrive in Italy coming for our jobs where, by and large, the male aspects dominate. Then, in Orvieto, we begin feeling and experiencing, and that neglected side of us is given voice. It is wonderful to experience, and it is wonderful to watch happen in those who travel with us. It is, in fact, why people come and what they take home with them.

Local artisan, Alberto, at work in Orvieto – touching our creative side!

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I read today that Facebook is about to release 100 apps for use with their program. It got me thinking about Facebook and social media. Few will agree with me, but I just am not a fan. It is so not what we do in Italy, which is to pay attention to where you are and what your are doing. Italy, and I hope life, is about living the life that surrounds you, aware of what is taking place in front of you.

Facebook is so much the opposite. I’m sure I will be taken to task for not appreciating and understanding what it offers. But it seems to me that Facebook lets people live life at arms length from everyone. Yes you follow what everyone is doing so you stay current. But while you follow everyone else, you do nothing. And you aren’t involved in the lives of the people you follow, you are simply observing from afar. It is so much more fulfilling and alive to talk with the people who travel with us in Italy than to sit before the glow of a computer screen and see what people all over the world are doing.

She could be uploading to Facebook

Who has time to put the often irrelevant details of your life on Facebook. I’m sure it is a thrill to have lots of followers, although putting your life in front of everyone to see seems a bit bizarre. And if you spend all this time uploading to Facebook, you really aren’t present where ever you are. You aren’t truly living. It is more like putting yourself in a zoo for others to watch you.

We have a Facebook account and page for Adventures in Italy because we are told you have to do so in today’s world. Social media is where it’s at. We have one, but I rarely go there, I rarely put anything on it. Essentially then, it is worthless from a business standpoint. Frankly, I am not going to spend my time thinking of ways for people to follow what we do on Facebook, because for me it is a waste, has no value I can discern.

This blog I do for the business. But it is tied to our passion for Italy. It is a place to express what I’m feeling (such as in this post) as opposed to letting people know what I’m eating, or drinking. I don’t write here that often either, but when I do I at least care about what I am writing. Somehow, for me, there is a big divide between sharing something of importance versus something meaningless.

Perhaps I show my age. Yet I take some solace that I am not just being a Luddite when my son doesn’t have a Facebook account, and my daughter uses it sparingly. I apologize to all the Facebook fans, but I find more in life by being with others face-to-face.

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