Cortona and The Lamentation

Piazza della Republica, Cortona

On the steps of Palazzo del Comune

Last week we went to Cortona for the night.  This Tuscan hill town is right outside Perugia.  We could have gotten there in half an hour if it wasn’t for my lame suggestion to visit The Mall.  “De-mol,” as pronounced by the Italians, came highly recommended by several well-dressed locals we know.  This designer outlet sounded promising, but all four of us quickly melted down as we browsed though Gucci bags, Prada shoes, Valentino dresses and Armani jeans among crowds of bargain hunters.  A good deal was still 300 euros for something small.  We left empty handed after an hour.

We reached Cortona at sunset and found our hotel after several embarrassing wrong turns including one which took us down a pedestrian-only street that intersected the main piazza.   Then immediately after, we took a second turn heading straight into on-coming traffic and dirty looks.  I watched Matt’s confidence behind the wheel quickly deflate.  But when we finally arrived, it was all worth it.  This hotel ties for first place with the one in Taormina.   Our room was bright and colorful, spacious and sweet.  And the best part was the little private terrance in back.  We could have spent the whole trip sitting out there.

Views overlooking Tuscany and Umbria.

Outside the hotel is the central square, Piazza della Republica.  And down the street is the Duomo which faces an unassuming stone building housing the best museum we’ve seen yet.  (When I say “we,” I mean we parents.  Tom hated it.  The only things worse than another museum would be another big church, he said.)   While the paintings were still all religious with lots of gold highlights, something about this place was different.  The pictures were huge and bright and accessible, and we were the only ones there.

The stone courtyard in front of Museo Diocesano

There were two rooms on the first floor, one featuring Fra’ Angelico’s paintings, including The Annunciation.  The other room was devoted entirely to Luca Signorelli.  This was my favorite.  I’m not an art student nor even much of an art appreciator, but I was moved by these paintings, and every time I looked at Matt, I could tell he was too.  He said it best, “It feels like we are looking at something important.”

There was one picture in particular that got our attention.  It was called Lamentation Over the Dead Christ.  It was a scene so desperate and sad and familiar:  Jesus is dead.  His friends just un-nailed him from the cross and are surrounding his body with loving arms and profound grief.  His mother is holding his body, another woman is holding his hand, and another has his legs.  Behind them are others, equally distraught.  One woman is supporting Mary’s head between her hands.  It looks loving as well as hopeless.  Growing up Catholic, I was surrounded by these images in church and school, so much so that I developed an immunity to their drama.  But having distanced myself from the dogma, the rules, and the declarations of faith, I now see the humanity of this event.  It didn’t look like a Christian Bible scene celebrating divinity and salvation, but rather a depiction of the powerful human emotions involving love and loss.

It was a welcome connection with our son Luke and the experience we’ve shared with our friends and family for the past five years.

After standing in front of this painting for a little bit, we saw a sign nearby with a paragraph about Signorelli’s art.  It acknowledged the brilliant anatomical accuracy of Jesus’ body in Lamentation. It further revealed that after Signorelli’s own son had died of the plague, he used the body as a model.  Reading this gave new meaning to the artwork and exposed a degree of catharsis to the painting.  This fact furthermore explained not just the anatomical accuracy, but the emotional accuracy as well.


Finding the Sauce (fresh pasta, part 2)

“caserecce” with sautéed zucchini and tomatoes

Italians are more careful than I am about pairing pastas with sauces.  I usually don’t pay too much attention to what noodle goes with what sauce; however, out of respect for the attention Cristiano puts into his shapes, I ask for recommendations each time I visit.  Last week I tried six different fresh pastas.  While each one would have been delicious with just melted butter, the variations he offered me were wonderful.  I will try to explain each one, but the recipes can be difficult to duplicate; Christiano used words like “a little” or “some” or “however much you want.”  He never provided measurements.   Furthermore, Italian ingredients can vary from what we are use to back home.  Things like cream and gorgonzola taste different here.

The first day I visited Cristiano’s store, I bought umbrecelli.  This is a thick pasta made with “white dough” meaning there are no eggs added.  The name for umbrecceli is different in every Italian city.  And while it’s always thick, it can be long like spaghetti or short like penne.  In Cortona, it’s called “pici.”  In Spoletto it’s “stringozzi.”  In Terni it’s “cerioli.”  In Genoa it’s called “truffie.”  My favorite word is from the region of Veneto where they call it “strozzapreti” which means “priest choker.”  This name comes from the old days when priests were associated with their big appetites and tendency to partake in the good life.  While scarfing down second helpings of this thick noodle, they were known to occasionally choke on it.

about four servings of umbrecelli

I dressed the umbrecceli with amatraciana sauce, a simple crowd pleaser.  There are as many ways to make amatraciana as there are names for umbrecelli; however, Cristiano says to begin by sautéing half of a small onion in olive oil.  After it becomes pale and soft, add seven ounces of thick pancetta cut into small pieces. Cook for five minutes then add a big splash of white wine.  When the sauce reduces, add two cups of tomato puree and gently simmer for 45 minutes adding water if it gets too  thick.  Serve with pecorino cheese.

The next day I bought agnolotti.  This is an egg pasta stuffed with meat.  It’s a popular pasta in the region of Emilia Romana.  We tried it when we visited Bologna.  Cristiano doesn’t make it much because he says Perugians prefer the smaller shape of cappelletti with a meat filling.  (Each city is so loyal to their traditions.)  With agnolotti, Cristiano explained how to make a super easy salsa rosa:  Simply bring to a simmer about two cups of heavy cream then add a quarter cup of tomato puree.  Stir.  Season with salt.  Serve with Parmesan cheese.

agnolotti with salsa rosa

The next day was my favorite.  Cristiano made “caserecce,” a short egg pasta, and told me how to make a zucchini and tomato sauce.  (See photo at the top of this post.)  Begin by sautéing half a small onion in plenty of olive oil.  Add a generous sprinkle of dried chives.  Slice up three zucchinis in rounds and add them to the oil.  Add salt.  Turn the zucchinis over when they brown.  After both sides are cooked, add two small chopped tomatoes.  Toss with the pasta and serve with Parmesan cheese.

caserecce up close

The fourth pasta I made was gigli all’arrabbiata.  Gigli are short, twirly, whimsical noodles.  “Gigli” means “lilies” in Italian. “Arrabbiata” means “angry” (because this tomato sauce is spicy).  Begin by sautéing a small chopped onion and several cloves of chopped garlic.  Add salt.  Add plenty of hot pepper flakes.  When the onions begin to look translucent, add three cups of tomato puree.  Gently simmer for 25 minutes.  This is a versatile sauce and can be served on umbrecceli too.

Matt’s plate of gigli all’arrabbiata.

Next, we tried ravioli.  Every day Cristiano makes ricotta and spinach ravioli.  But on special days, he makes beet ravioli.  We arrived on a special day.   As he wrapped up my tray of pasta, Cristiano explained what to put on top:  Place a big wedge of gorgonzola cheese in a double boiler over hot water.  Let it slowly melt while occasionally stirring.  When it’s hot, drizzle it over the ravioli and sprinkle toasted walnuts on top.

Finally, we tried cappelletti (little hats).  Traditionally Perugians eat this for Christmas in broth, but it’s good any time of year.  I wanted to try making a broth, so Cristiano told me to go to the butcher and get several pieces of veal, beef, and chicken, all on the bone, then put the meat in a pot with an onion, several carrots and some celery and cover with water.  Add plenty of coarse salt and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for two hours.  Remove the meat and strain the broth.  Let it cool in the fridge and then skim off the fat that rises and solidifies.  Reheat and cook the cappelletti in the broth for 8 minutes.  Serve with Parmesan cheese.  The meat from the stock can be served as a second coarse with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Bowls of cappelletti in broth.

One last thing I wanted to share about pasta making is a short list of rules that all Italians swear by.  I can’t tell you how many time I hear the following:

1.  Before cooking the noodles, add plenty of salt to the boiling water.  Americans are use to adding a sprinkle, but here they add a small handful.  It should be as salty as the ocean, they say.  (And never add oil to the water, it prevents the noodles from absorbing flavor.)

2.  Cook the noodles al dente.   I thought I knew what this meant, but Italians cook their noodles even less than I expected.   Overcooked pasta tastes like baby food, the Italians say.  They would rather serve underdone than overdone pasta.  (This is the rule I worried about the most when I had Italian company over for dinner.)

3.  Before draining the noodles, add a ladle or two of the hot pasta water to the sauce.  They say the starchy water is good for creating a silky sauce, and it somehow makes the sauce stick to the noodles better.

4.  Before serving, add drained noodles to the sauce in the saucepan and combine, instead of serving a ladle of sauce on top of the noodles.  The Italians even cook the noodles with the sauce for a minute or two.  (Just make sure you’ve added the pasta to the sauce before it’s done so you don’t overcook them.)

The Pasta Man

The storefront of Bottega Artigiana Pasta Fresca

We’ve met so many people in Perugia but none as awesome as Cristiano, the pasta man.  Tucked away in a tiny kitchen down a narrow alley, Cristiano works six days a week making all kinds of Umbrian pasta (and by request, a few types from other regions as well.)  It’s easy to pass by his store; there is no sign indicating a name or what’s for sale inside.   I found Cristiano after hearing of his legendary work.  When Perugians talk about fresh pasta, Cristiano’s store is synonymous with excellence. The first time we met, I ordered four servings of fresh umbrecelli.  That night, after my first bite of these thick, homemade noodles covered in a spicy tomato sauce (which he explained how to make) I decided that we should visit his store every day until we’ve sampled each one of his creations.  That was last week, and I have been back six times.

Yesterday when I stopped by to pick up my casarecci noodles, I brought my camera to take a few pictures.  Cristiano invited me to stay for the entire morning while he made pasta.  This was one of the best days I’ve had in Perugia.  While I snapped photos, he talked about his life as a pasta maker.  Then we talked about Italy.  Then we talked about soccer and school and Christmas feasts.  Occasionally, he’d get going about Italian politicians before shaking his head in disgust and suggesting another topic.  “Let’s talk about pasta again.  Pasta is the most beautiful subject of all,” he said.

I asked Cristiano how he got into the business.  He told me that his mother, Marisa, opened the store back in the 70s.  Times were hard then, and she needed money.  After passing by a storefront in the seaside town of Rimini, she noticed a huge crowd gathered outside waiting to get in.  It was a pasta store.  It was the busiest store around.  So she decided to return to Perugia and open her own.   Fast forward twenty years later.  Cristiano had just completed his third year of college.  He was studying geology.  His mother asked him what he wanted to do with his life.  He didn’t know, so she suggested he spend a day in the store with the noodles.  He found the work well suited for him, so he left school and has been working there since.

As we were talking, Marisa stopped by the store to see Cristiano. When I asked if I could take a picture, she grabbed a handful of pasta and smiled.

During the rest of the morning, I watched Cristiano make more than 500 cappettelli.  The pasta dough is made with flour, water, salt and eggs.  Once it is mixed together, Cristiano puts it in his huge pasta extruder.  Within seconds, little squares come tumbling out ready to be filled.

Cappelletti is similar to tortellini except the filling is a little different.  Cristiano stuffs his with ground pork, ground beef, egg, sweet white wine, and Parmesan cheese.  He grinds the meat and makes the filling every morning in his shop.   When it’s ready, he swiftly packs each little square of pasta dough with the meat then tosses it against a wooden back-splash and into the growing pile of goodness.

Throughout the day, pasta making was interrupted by customers.  When people entered, Cristiano would greet them at the cash register and wrap up their order on a tray covered in crisp, white paper.  Each order looked like a present.

At the end of the day, Cristiano told me there was one last thing to do.  He handed me a square of dough and told me to make a cappelletti.  I started laughing and told him I didn’t know how and that mine would look so ugly compared to his.  He shook his head and said, “Il fare insegna” which means “doing is what teaches”.  So after several attempts, I folded a cute little cappelletti.  But I’m sure it would have totally fallen apart if dropped in boiling water.

In my next post, I will include pictures and recipes from all six pasta dishes that Cristiano taught me this week.

The list of pastas that hangs on the wall at Bottega Artigiana di Pasta Fresca. Next to each noodle are the ingredients, price, and minutes it takes to cook them.


Perugia’s Soccer

Late Saturday night, we got a call from our friends Sergio and Milena asking if we’d like to go to the stadium with their family on Sunday to watch Perugia vs. Gubbio.  Hell yes.

Perugia’s team use to be great.  In fact, they even went to the championship once after an undefeated season (a long, long time ago.)  They’ve since been demoted from series A to series C but hope to someday make a comeback and play the big boys from Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples.  Still, this is soccer and we’re in Italy, and the support for the home team was wild.  We didn’t care if it was a lil’ kickers league.  It felt good to participate.

The red and white crowd was screaming victory chants as we arrived, and flags were flying.  This was an especially important game for Perugia because they hadn’t played Gubbio in over 20 years.  And since they are neighboring cities, it was time to demonstrate some dominance.  We listened to our friend describe how certain rivalries evolved between cities around Perugia:  over the millennium, Umbrian city-states have been defeating and conquering each other, often with terribly grave consequences.  Even though the battles are over, the stories are retold and taught in the classrooms.  Apparently, the scars are especially vulnerable on Sunday afternoons.  He said that the citizens are still fighting the old wars.  While the cities of Gubbio and Perugia weren’t particularly combative, they still have some might to assert.  “Just wait till Perugia plays Arezzo!”  he said.  (Apparently, they had some big disagreements during the Middle Ages.)

Milena, Sergio and Massimo

It is quite a bit different from the fancy sports arenas back home.  The concessions consist of bottled water, bags of Ritz crackers, coffee and focaccia.  Apparently, you can get your coffee spiked if you want, but nobody seems to be drinking or eating.  It’s all about the game.  There is no score board and no Jumbotron showing close-ups of the plays.  We couldn’t even find a timer to know how many minutes were left.  So we watched and cheered and counted down on our cell phones.

Within seconds of half-time, Perugia stole the ball dribbling it downfield before swiftly kicking it past the diving goalkeeper and into the net.  Tiny pieces of everyone’s program went flying through the air as confetti.  Needless to say, the half-time break was festive. Perugia scored a second goal towards the end of the game.  And victory was theirs.  We celebrated afterwards with gelato and beers at a nearby park.

Saturday School

Ray waving from the window of his classroom.

For Italian kids, and now ours, the weekend begins Saturday after school and lasts just one day.  So for the next nine months, we will walk our kids to school every day but Sunday.   Right now, this feels all right.  There are some benefits to the boys attending school six times a week (language emersion being one, plus they are home for lunch every afternoon.)  Even though we’ve only just begun, the boys had a really good first week.  By the third day, other students were waiting to greet them when we arrived.  And every day after school, Tom and Ray walked home bubbly and full of energy.  I know there will be some terrific difficulites  this year, but today, I feel relief and optimism.  And while supervision in the school is questionable (read on) Perugians agree that these two schools are some of the best in the city.

Ray with his new friend Lorenzo

Stefano and Tom (We hope Tom can soon master the cool, impassive look of Italian men.)

We’ve found that attending school on Saturday is just one difference from what we are used to back home.  Here are some more:

*  In Italy, Catholic education is free (!)

*  There’s a dress code.  (And we figured out why Tom was the only one in uniform this week: dress code doesn’t officially start until October 1st.  So for now, he’s back in basketball shorts, but by October, he needs to add a blue cardigan to his jeans and white polo.)  Ray wears a cute, little blue smock.

*  Changing classes.  Here in Italy, the teachers change classes, not the students.  Therefore, no need for lockers.

*   Several required classes are technical drawing, creative drawing and religion.  How . . . Italian.

*  Parents are not welcome inside the school.  Of course, on the first day, we all accompanied our kids to class and took a picture, but since then, I have never seen a parent in the halls.  Whenever I try to get inside at the beginning of the day to ask a question, the teachers and staff look at me funny and ask if I’m lost.  Over and over, that’s all I hear, “Are you lost?  Are you lost?  Are you lost?”  Needless to say, there are no opportunities to volunteer.  And I can’t figure out how to translate “PTA”.

*  Sometimes the teachers aren’t even at school.  Tom told us that yesterday his teacher didn’t show up for an hour and a half.  We asked what the class did.  He described it as complete craziness.  No adult checked in on them for the entire time.  He said the kids played a game in which anyone out of his/her desk was a target.  That meant that if someone stood up from his chair, the other students could throw anything at them including wads of paper, pencils, and books.  Oh my God!  We asked if anyone got hurt.  “No,” he said, “It was so fun to watch!”  Then today, they had no teacher for the last hour of class.  This time the secretary found them and brought them to the eighth grade music room.  Even then, there was no supervising teacher because he was out in the hall disciplining students the whole time.   I know this all sounds dangerous; however, Tom assures us that all the middle school kids are friendly and non-threatening.

*  School supplies:  there are no erasers on the ends of pencils.

Since there is very little communication between school and parents, I’m prepared to be surprised by more differences.

Shortly after school starts, the gates are locked, thereby prohibiting any eager parent from stopping by.  Here we are waiting for the dismissal bell.

Matt and I have made new friends too.  Today we attending a back-to-school meeting where we introduced ourselves to other parents.  Everyone was super helpful with our zillions of questions.  And we received several invitations (which may or may not actually happen.)

A few middle school parents: Vilma, Valeria, Luigi and me

First Day of School

Ray and Tom at the gates of their school

Today was the boys’ first day of school here in Italy.  We’ve been counting down the days since we arrived.  I’ve been so nervous and so excited for this morning, I had butterflies for a week.

We set our alarms for 7, reluctantly dressed in the required clothing,  and were out the door 45 minutes later.  Their schools are just 5 minutes away by foot.  They share the same building.  Tom’s middle school is on the third floor, and Ray’s elementary is on the second.  We arrived with the crowd of other families, and the anxiety went up.  We didn’t know where to go, didn’t know who to ask for help, and were beginning to feel pangs of guilt for enrolling our English speaking kids into a foreign public school.  At 7:55, the door opened and we scrunched our way inside, Italian style.  Then we started watching to see what others did.

Looking for some direction

We made it to the third floor in the hopes of finding Tom’s class but were roadblocked until the bell rang. In the confusion, Matt and Ray separated from us.

I finally found a confident looking lady and asked where the sixth graders meet.  She walked me to a small classroom and offered a desk to Tom.  There were just a few other kids sitting down.  I snapped a quick picture and stood in the back waiting for a teacher to arrive.  Soon a woman entered and told me to pick up Tom at 1 pm.  That was it.  Uh, I couldn’t believe I was just leaving him like this!

Courage, Tom. Courage.

Via text messaging, I found Matt and Ray down on the elementary floor with all the other kids in blue and white smocks.  When we found Ray’s teachers, they embraced him and kissed his cheeks.  A classmate was called over to show him around.  The student threw an arm around Ray and led him off to the coat room.

When they returned, Ray found a desk and waited for school to begin. There were only 14 other students in his room.  (Both kids have a small class; Tom only has 11 other students.)

Matt and I said our goodbyes and walked back to the apartment stopping for a coffee on the way.  It felt really weird to be without them.  The four of us have been within earshot almost constantly for the past eight weeks.  We talked about them constantly.  We wondered if the other kids would be helpful.  I worried that the confusion would be overwhelming.  I thought about their school supplies and snack.  I hoped they had everything they needed.  Then I had  a moment of big pride for them.  How cool that they were enrolled in Italian school.  How amazing it will be to watch them learn the language – to read and write in Italian.

At 12:45 we returned to the courtyard and waited for them to emerge.  The secondary school releases first.  We watched all the middle school kids spill out the door, then from a separate exit, we saw Tom.

Shortly after Tom, Ray arrived. That’s his teacher standing at the door.

Impatient for any news, we started grilling them about their day.  Tom said he started talking a little Italian to the first kid he met, but the boy understood nothing.  That was discouraging, but he later found out that the boy was from the Philippines and spoke English!  Tom then gave me a list of all the school supplies he was missing.  He said the day went fine; the kids spoke a little English and the teacher spoke none.  His jeans were uncomfortable and no other kids seemed to adhere to the jeans/white shirt dress code and could he please wear Husky basketball shorts tomorrow.  He described the lessons which consisted of copying phrases off the white board.  Snack was insufficient, especially since I forgot to pack a drink, and he didn’t know where to find water.  The kids were really nice but wild.  When the teacher left the room, chaos ensued.  And when the teacher asked a question, no one bothered to raise a hand; answers were blurted out.  Ray quickly agreed that it was similar for him.  The kids were friendly, loud, and enthusiastic, and the teachers were very tolerant of all the activity.  Ray had a drawing class and a math class.  And he only needed two more items to fulfill his supply list.

Looking back, I realize this was such a big, important day.  But the reality of it is hard to grasp.  I feel limited in my ability to comprehend the system.  But I promised the boys I’d check out the dress code policy and get them a better snack.  And I’ll memorize their teachers’ names and learn how to find their classrooms without getting lost. Tomorrow will be even better.

I can’t believe they are doing it all over again in the morning. This whole endeavor makes me feel brave and gives me great respect for the boys.

Naples, Pompeii, and the Almafi Coast

A view from Castel Sant’Elmo

Driving into Naples boosts my adrenaline, not only for the inevitable wrong turn, sudden one-way streets, and jarring onslaught of honkey horns, but because the city and people effuse a sense of vibrancy more than any other place in Italy.   This town is reckless, tough, complex, mysterious, superstitious and sometimes comical.  It would make a great setting for a Scooby Doo episode.

It’s a big city, the third largest in Italy.  It is laid out like a plate of spaghetti with miles of roads noodling in every direction.  Cars and motor scooters zoom up and down and sideways with no concept of staying within a lane.   The bordering buildings decorated with graffiti often rise high enough over the streets to block out the sunlight.  Laundry hangs from nearly every window, but it’s hard to believe that anyone is ever inside because the sidewalks and cafes are so full.

This is my fourth visit to Naples.  I know I’m here when I see an entire family brazenly swerve through traffic on a single moped or when a stranger approaches and reminds me to hold my purse and camera tightly or when every block I pass displays a shrine honoring Jesus or the neighborhood Catholic saint.  The four days passed quickly here.  And as we drove out of town with white knuckles clutching the steering wheel, I wanted to plan another visit.

At first glance, Naples doesn’t strike me as beautiful, but there is so much to love, and the most obvious is pizza. Naples claims to have invented it.  Whether or not that is true, it is undisputedly the best in the country.  We had a great lunch at Da Michele, a 130-year-old pizzeria that offers only two choices: margarita or marinara.  We arrived to find a crowd amassed at the entrance with customers waiting for a table.  We got a number and within an hour,  we were ordering three pizzas.

The crowd in front of Da Michele


If you look carefully at the wall behind Tom, there’s a picture of Julia Roberts during her last visit.

During the rest of our stay in Naples, we visited churches, climbed to the top of a castle, spent an hour t00 long in the archeological museum, and ordered lots of coffee and gelato.  The boys’ highlight was a little street called  Via San Gregorio Armeno that was lined with shops on both sides selling tiny figures for nativity scenes.  While there was the occasional Baby Jesus, most of the items for sale were more Neapolitan such as little pizza ovens or a group of old men playing cards and other incongruent accompaniments to the stable and shepherds.

Tom liked the figurines with moveable, electrical parts. 

After three days in the city, we decided to take the train out to Pompeii.  This, of course, is the ancient Roman city that was buried in ash and toxic gas from Mt. Vesuvius back on August 24, 79AD.  What’s so amazing about this place is that all the details of daily life have been preserved so well.  We saw the locker room of the bath house, the ovens of a bakery and the beds in the brothel.  There were so many similarities between this ancient life and ours, but we wondered how the people couldn’t save themselves.  Our tour guide explained that most of the 20,000 inhabitants did escape after the initial explosion, but the following day, around 2,000 came back to collect their belongings, and that’s when a second eruption occurred.  Eventually, the city was covered in 5 meters of ash and debris, but  it was the poisonous gas that caused the most death.  Our guide assured the boys that it was a painless death, and that the Pompeiians just got very sleepy before nodding off forever.

The ruins of Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.


Modern statues on the ancient columns


At the edge of the Forum

And finally, we spent an afternoon on the Almafi Coast before heading back to Perugia.  We figured that since it was only about 45 miles from Naples, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Italy’s most beautiful coastline.  We had no idea that the traffic would keep us in the car longer than the beach.  When we finally arrived in Positano, a small village perched on the steep Almafi cliffs, we were dying for a cold drink and a beach recliner.  After parking the car, we hiked down 342 stairs to a cute restaurant overlooking some chairs and umbrellas for rent.  We ordered wine and marinated anchovies then took a quick dip in the Mediterranean Sea.  The Almafi coast is not only famous for it’s beauty, but for it’s lemons.  It’s said that the people here take better care of their lemons than their children.

This is Lo Guarracino, serving seafood, pizzas and lemoncello.


And the view from Lo Guarracino into the blue sea where we would soon be swimming.


On our way out of town, we pulled up to a road side lemonade stand and ordered four glasses of lemon granita for the ride home.

Happy Hour

Every night of the week in Italy, as the streets fill up for the evening passeggiata, so do the bars and cafes.  Detouring from the promenade, Perugians can take a break at one of the umbrella-covered outdoor tables and order un’aperitivo.  While patrons sit and watch the crowds pass by, a waiter will bring a drink as well as several platters of appetizers.  Some cafes serve simple accompaniments such as chips, olives, and nuts.  Others bring many plates of food.  Everything is included with the price of a drink and could even substitute for a meal.  All this free food struck us as very generous.  Italians will just say that you can’t enjoy a drink without something good to eat.

Cafe Blitz is our favorite. Last week we were served a small slice of lazagna, pasta with sautéed greens, a mini frittata, huge capers, green olives, pickled onions, potato chips, bread, and a pesto spread.

When we aren’t very hungry, we like Bar Blu. The appetizers are light, and the location is the best for people watching.

Lunabar Ferrari lies at the dead center of Corso Vannucci. Drinks come with no less than nine bowls of appetizers. We ate here once and found the snacks a little blah, but this woman is giving it the OK! sign.

Since we are always trying to fit in with the locals, we spent some time observing what the Italians like for their evening cocktail.  Unlike Seattle, it’s rare to find someone sipping a margarita or rum and coke.  Italians favor bitter, herbal drinks before dinner.  They say it gets the taste buds ready for a meal.  Here are a list of some of the most common choices:

1. Negroni:  a strong, bright red drink made with gin, Campari, red vermouth and soda

2. Aperol spritz:  Aperol, prosecco and soda

3.  Campari and soda:  a bitter, red drink served with a twist of orange.

4.  Prosecco:  sparking white wine

5.  Martini rosso or Martini bianco:  Martini is a brand of sweet vermouth served on the rocks with a twist of lemon (no vodka or gin)

6.  Crodino, Chinotto, and Sanbitter: three non-alcoholic, bitter, carbonated drinks.  Crodino is orange.  Chinotto is light brown.  Sanbitter is bright red.

Many of the Italian aperitivos are bright red.  This coloring was originally derived from beetles. But in the last 10 years, beetles have been phased out for an artificial substitute.  Bummer.

Tonight we had to skip the wonderful tradition of getting out of the house for a walk because we had company for dinner, and I was working all afternoon under terribly stressful conditions to make a good meal for them.  (They are Italian and accustomed  to very high standards, of course.)  Since they planned to arrive at 7:30,  I prepared a little aperitivo for them.  I offered either prosecco or Sanbitter for drinks.  And for an appetizer, I made a plate of pecorino cheese with honey, sliced salami  and some toasted bread with grilled vegetables.

They got a really good deal because I didn’t even charges them for the drinks.