Sports, School and Ice Cream (written by Tom)

by guest blogger Tom

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My favorite thing to write about is football, especially the Huskies.  This fall I wrote weekly reports on college football.  I watched every Husky game from our computer here, and I’m excited to go to all the home games next fall.

There aren’t many Italians who know what real football is.  Some think it’s soccer, and some think it’s rugby.  Most people think I’m a rugby player.   I wear a Husky football jersey to school every day under my uniform.  On Thursday when I have PE, I get to wear shorts.  P.E. is one of my favorite classes.  So is French.

I wear a Husky football jersey to school every day under my uniform.

These are all the boys in my class except one, who was absent today.

But I don’t really like school that much.  In Math, we have to be very organized.  We have to use a red pen for the title at the top of the page, a black pen for headings, a green pen for lines and line segments, a blue pen for showing our work and a pencil for drawling angles and pie charts.  And the big problem is, we are not allowed to use white-out or erasers, so if you mess up, you have to start over.  Yesterday I asked my teacher why we couldn’t always use pencils and erasers.  She said that people would take home their assignments after they were corrected, erase all the incorrect answers and replace them with the right ones.  However, students still find ways to cheat.  The other day, I caught three of my classmates using cheat sheets for a test, so I got up, grabbed the cheat sheets, and turned them into the teacher.  Luckily, the three boys weren’t mad at me and they agreed not to do it again.  Hopefully, this will put an end to cheating in my class.

We have a class called Antologia where we read stories.  The stories are confusing.  I understand the words in Italian, but the story itself doesn’t really make sense.  For instance, there was one called “The Wolf and the Sheep.”  This is how it goes:

One day, a wolf and a sheep arrived at a drinking river at the same time.  The wolf was mean and wanted an excuse to eat the sheep.  He said, “Why are you dirtying my water?”

The sheep replied, “How could I dirty your water? You’re farther up stream than me.”

Then the wolf said, “Six months ago you were saying bad things about me.”

“Six months ago I wasn’t born,” the sheep responded.

“Your dad was saying bad things about me,” said the wolf, and he grabbed the sheep and ate him.  THE END.

In art history, we are studying columns.  There are three types of ancient Greek columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.  On Sunday I found a Corinthian column in a town we visited.

In art history, we are studying columns. There are three types of ancient Greek columns: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian. On Sunday we found a Corinthian column in a town we visited.

One good thing about my school is that the teachers sometimes don’t show up.  This week, we have gone to school for 15 hours and for 10 of them the teachers were gone.  When this happens, we go into another classroom and write, draw, read or do whatever we want to.  Right before school got out today, we heard that all but one of our teachers for tomorrow are sick.  The principal gave all the kids the option to go to school or not.  You can probably guess what I chose.

One of the worst things about school is that we go six days a week. Then on Sunday, my one day off, my parents take us sight-seeing and we have to look at piazzas, churches and museums.  Last weekend we went to Montefalco and Bevagna, but at least I got to bring my football.

I played catch with my dad in the main piazza

I played catch with my dad in the main piazza.

While we were there, we went to a museum that was kind of boring, but at least it wasn’t very big.  My mom and I counted angels.  We found 96 in the main part of the museum.  Then as we were about to leave, we found a special angel-only exhibit downstairs.  The first one looked like a wide receiver who missed a catch.

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And the second one looked like a disappointed coach

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We have only 149 days left, and I’m glad.  I like Bellevue better.  I think everything is better back home like my friends, my school, my house, and even the food. At least here I can get gelato every day.  My favorite flavors are lemon, vanilla cream and chocolate chip, but I like Baskin-Robbins more because the ice cream is colder and the flavors are better.  I can’t wait to get home and eat pink bubblegum ice cream, cinnamon firehouse, and poprock swirl.

Today my ice cream fell off my cone and onto the floor but luckily, Verena and Sabrina gave me a second one for free.

Today my ice cream fell off my cone and onto the floor, but luckily Verena and Sabrina gave me a second one for free.

Learning to Host

DSC_0116If I were home, I would not write a post on what I ate for dinner.  But somehow here, it seems interesting.  There’s subtle magic in our Italian kitchen.  Cooking isn’t a chore.  It doesn’t tire me out.  The ingredients are more compelling and everything tastes better.  I know it’s not me.  I’m not a chef or even close to one.  I’m not especially intuitive in the kitchen.  I don’t even know why certain ingredients go together.  However, we eat really well here.  I think one explanation for the elevated quality is due to the contagious passion of the Italians.  They believe in their food.  They talk about it like a sports fan talks about the playoffs.  This week I listened to a grocer describe the nuances of a tiny green legume that grows 15 miles outside the city.  He went on and on.  By the end of his speech, I was heading home with several bags of beans and a single-minded enthusiasm to cook them all.   I had never succeeded in properly cooking a dried bean at home.  Never.  (The long soaking, the slow simmering and the seasoning were too tricky.) Yet here, beans come out just right.

The beans feel good.  I'd like to have a little legume sandbox when we get home.

The beans feel good. I’d like to have a little legume sandbox when we get home.

My favorite is the local borlotti.  When Antonio the bean seller sold me a bag, he looked to the sky and gesticulated as if to say, “There are no words for this!”  But then he finally added, “This bean is so exceptional; it isn’t even a bean.  It’s . . . meat.”

Later, we tried it in soup. It gave us the confidence needed to make it for company, and that’s saying a lot, because it is so intimidating to cook for Italians.  They each have conflicting opinions about what ingredients should go in what dish.  They fiercely believe in their own family recipes.    And culturally, the whole set-up is different.

To begin with, guests arrive no earlier than 8:00 at which point the host has finished preparing the meal.  Appetizers are served while seated at the dinner table.  Wine is drunk during dinner, but the drinking isn’t as heavy.  The speed at which one eats is greater.  The servings are bigger.  But the biggest difference is the quantity of courses.

I tried to follow these guidelines when Cristiano, the Pasta Man, came to our house last night.

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He arrived at 8:00.  Of course, the bean soup wasn’t the only thing we served.  It was one of 10 plates of food we ate throughout the night including Umbrian cheeses, Umbrian meats, grilled eggplant, pasta and bean soup, a lemon caper chicken, three sides of vegetables and a tray of oranges with olive oil.  The prettiest course was the cake we bought from across the street for dessert.  The inside was chocolate.  The berries were covered in a sugar glaze.

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Eating only took a couple hours.  Then we poured grappa, vin santo and herbal digestivi while sitting around talking.  The Italian election is coming up; politics was one of the topics, as was Star Wars, Clint Eastwood, the new marajuana laws in Washington State and the Mafia in Perugia.  By midnight Cristiano left and we started cleaning up.  We had a huge mess.  The leftovers barely fit in the fridge.  We will be eating soup for a couple days, but that’s okay, because, like I said, I’m really into it right now.  In case anyone wants to try it, I’ll leave the recipe below.  God, I hope it turns out tasting good even outside of Italy.

Pasta e Fagioli

serves 6

Here's what you'll need.  Plus several cups of short pasta

Here’s what you’ll need. Plus about 1/2 lb. of short pasta

2 cups dried cranberry beans

4 oz guanciale

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 onion (plus and optional 1/2 onion for the beans)

2 medium carrots

2 medium stalks of celery

4 oz. smoked, diced pancetta

8 cups or more of vegetable, chicken or meat broth

salt and pepper

Begin the day before by covering the beans in water and soaking them for at least 24 hours.  Two hours before you start the soup, begin simmering the beans in a pot of water.  You can add a little flavor by adding half an onion or some garlic to the pot.  Cook for a couple hours or until the beans taste done.

When you are ready to cook the soup, cut the guanciale into small pieces.  Fry it in a pan over low heat with a tablespoon of olive oil for 5-10 minutes.  Before it browns, add the finally chopped onion, celery and carrots.  Cook together until the vegetables are very soft.  Then add a cup of broth and cook until the liquid has evaporated.  Meanwhile, in a second pot over low heat, cook the pancetta in a tablespoon of olive oil.  After about 10 minutes, but before the pancetta crisps, add the cooked, drained beans.  Mix them together and then add the broth.  Let the beans absorb the broth for a bit then add the guanciale/vegetable mixture and cook together for 5 minutes.  In a separate pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta for half the recommended time.  Then drain and add the pasta to the beans and cook until the pasta is al dente.  Add salt and pepper if you need.

Me in Italy (written by Ray)

by guest blogger Ray

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School has been going really well for me ever since Christmas break and the week I was sick.  I’ve been understanding a lot more in Italian.  I use to get easier work than the Italian kids in school, but now I do the same exercises and homework as them.  I think it’s fun.  Also, conversation is easier to understand.  I hardly ever have to say “Non capisco.”

My favorite class in school is Italian grammar because the teacher is really nice to me and it’s the easiest class.  Right now we are studying comparisons and superlatives.  For instance, if something is good, we say it is “buono.”  If something is better, we say “migliore.”  If something is the best, we say “ottimo.”  At first it was confusing, but my tutor Paola helped me understand.

In history we are learning about the Etruscans.  They lived before the Romans.  Where they came from is a mystery, but they lived in here Umbria and around the center of Italy.  They were the ones who invented the arch.  They were really good architects.  When they wrote, they wrote from right to left, and they did not have spaces between their words.  They wrote with a different alphabet than ours.

This is an Etruscan arch.  It's the most famous arch in Perugia.

This is an Etruscan arch. It’s the most famous arch in Perugia.

My least favorite class is science.  Right now we are studying the body.  We are learning about breathing, muscles, bones, intestines, nerves, veins and cells.  There are some funny pictures in my science book like a rotting orange, the Italian food pyramid, a little baby sitting on a potty, and an angry boy riding a bike.

This is a picture from my science book.

This is a picture from my science book.

We always have a break at 10:15.  That’s when we get to have a snack and talk.  My friends are Alberto, Andrea, Gaia, Anna, Alessandro and Teresa.  During break the boys sing Gangnam Style or play charades.  Actually, I don’t play charades because I have no idea what they are acting out.  Sometimes they do things and I don’t know what it is suppose to be.

This is me with my classmates.  I'm sitting between Andrea and Gaia.  In the background is poster of me that my class made at the beginning of the year.  It says, "Welcome to our school."

This is me with my classmates. I’m sitting between Andrea and Gaia. In the background is a poster of me that my class made at the beginning of the year. It says, “Welcome to our school.”

Today during snack time, I talked with Gaia.

Today during snack time, I talked with Gaia.

After school, I come home for lunch, check my emails, do my homework and get gelato.  I go across the street to Grom for gelato.  Right now my favorite flavors are cream, lemon, chocolate and stracciatella.  The most common flavor is hazelnut.  Vanilla is not very popular, and it’s hard to find.

Sabrina and Verenna and me.  Today I ordered three scoops and some whip cream.

Sabrina and Verena and me. Today I ordered three scoops of gelato and some whip cream.

We are half way through the year. It has been fun when people visit us, but I’m also excited to go home.  I miss our backyard and our house and our neighborhood and my friends.  But when I leave I will miss the gelato, the food, my Italian friends, all the traveling on Sundays and vacations.

Italian School: Wine and Shopping

Teachers and staff at Comitato Linguistico:

Teachers and staff at Comitato Linguistico

I enrolled in another week of language school at Comitato Linguistico. There aren’t a lot of international students in town during January, so the classes were small.  In the morning I met with three others to study grammar and conversation.  We focused on fashion and cinema terminology and a difficult verb called il congiuntivo.  I think I used it correctly just once this entire week.

Ismael, Luca, Boris, Laura and me.

Ismael from Palestine; Luca, our Italian teacher; Boris from the Netherlands; Laura from Germany and me.

After the difficult session with verbs, the cultural second half of the morning is always fun.  We listened to interviews with Georgio Armani as well as other Italian designers who are projecting the trends in menswear for 2013.  According to the experts, we can expect a mix of sporty and elegant with a lean towards a one-of-a-kind look, meaning a preference towards original and limited edition pieces (kind of like back in the 1800s when your mom made your clothes instead of H&M).

In the afternoon, I was the only one in Luca’s class, so I asked if we could turn the sessions into a series of little field trips.  He thought that was a great idea and had lots of places to show me since he’s kind of an expert on Perugia.  We started with an artisan shopping excursion.  Luca took me to several nearby stores where the owners work and create everything right there.   My favorite was Ozona where I met the incredible Sandro Gonnella who makes lenses and sunglasses.  Sandro earned a degree in design in Milan and then worked for a couple high-end companies before opening his own studio here in Perugia.  While he sells many ready-to-wear models, much of his work is in creating the perfect pair of glasses for individual clients.  He explained the process to me. When someone comes to him looking for frames, he begins by carefully studying the shape of the face.  He takes a picture and then creates a series of virtual glasses on the computer.  At the next appointment, the client and he will meet to discuss the best option before he begins work on a prototype.  Once that is complete, the client tries it on for size. If it works, colors are chosen and then construction on the actual pair of glasses begins. With an infinite variety of colors and shapes, each pair is different.  It can take a month before the glasses are ready.  Let me just say that it might be impossible to set foot in this inspiring studio without making an appointment for Sandro to begin creating your own pair of glasses.

Sandro with some of his raw materials

Sandro with several samples of acetate, the material used to make the frames.

Sandro models several styles

Sandro models several styles

Luca and Sandro in the studio

Sandro and Luca in the studio

Trying on a bold look

Trying on a bold look

Later this week we went wine tasting.  I asked if I could bring a couple friends to which Luca agreed.  So the whole family came.  On Thursday, we filled his car and drove out to Lungarotti Vineyards in Torgiano.  When we arrived, Grazia, a guide, sommelier and olive oil expert, gave us a private tour.  She walked us through each step of the wine making process starting with the vineyard then moving through the stages of crushing, fermentation and bottling. We concluded the visit around a table with a glass of white and two reds then left with several bottles of our favorites.

Starting outside near the grape vines.

Starting outside near the grape vines.

Lungarotti Vineyards produce two and a half million bottles a year.

Lungarotti Vineyards produce two and a half million bottles a year.

"The Library"  These wines are stacked according to the year they were made.  Many  are from the 1960s.  I had to take this picture through the window; we weren't allowed inside.

These wines are stacked and labeled according to the year they were made. Many are from the 1960s. I had to take this picture through the window since we weren’t allowed inside the room.

Grazia offers an olive oil tasting.

Grazia offers an olive oil sampling.

Grazia taught Luca how to "open up" the flavor of the oil before tasting it.

Grazia taught us how to “open up” the flavor of the oil before tasting it.  We sandwiched the plastic cup between our hands then rotated our palms back and forth.

Sampling the wines:  the Torre di Giano, the Rubesco and the Rubesco Riserva. We loved each one. We bought them all.

Sampling the wines: the Torre di Giano, the Rubesco and the Rubesco Riserva. We loved each one and bought them all.

We didn’t get a chance to visit, but just down the road, Lungarotti has a wine spa called Bella Uve Spa where you can schedule therapeutic wine baths, grape scrubs, wine tasting massages and other types of vintherapy.  The website boasts the healing and relaxing powers of wine both in the body and on the body.  Hard to believe, but very tempting.

My language classes are over for the week; I have six hours next week, and Matt starts an intensive course on Monday.

Griffins

This copper griffin in the background overlooks Piazza IV Novembre and the  city's giant fountain.

This copper griffin in the background overlooks Piazza IV Novembre and the city’s giant fountain.

With the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, the mythological griffin is found all over Perugia.  It’s the city’s symbol, its emblem, its mascot, and during a soccer match, its nickname.

Forza Grifo!

Forza Grifo!

The city chose this creature as its protector during the Renaissance because of its association with strength, courage and intelligence.  The wings give it speed; the claws give it ferocious power.  It’s a combination of the king of beasts and the king of birds. Around here the griffin is everywhere.  Small and large statues guard the entrance to government offices, museums and public buildings.   Pictures are found on napkins, coasters, wine bottles and chocolate bar wrappers.  Griffins are also painted onto the traditional ceramics of central Umbria.  This month, Matt and I went on a griffin hunt to find as many as we could around our apartment in downtown Perugia.  Here are some of our favorites.

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And just two hours ago, I took a picture of a griffin I hadn’t yet seen. Like the saltless bread, this statue represents the Perugian irreverence towards centuries of papal rule. In the clenches of the griffin’s right front claw lies the Pope’s hat.  (And in the right claw is a snake representing the Italian triumph over the fascist years.)

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But the griffin that is most personal to me is the one I wear every day.  For Christmas, my aunt and uncle visited a local jeweler and had silver griffin pins made for all of us.  They give us superpowers.  Without them, we’d probably still have the flu.

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House Calls

One minute away, on Corso Vanucci is Farmacia Lemmi

One minute away on Corso Vanucci is Farmacia Lemmi

Signora Laura and Signor Antonio help us find the best lozengers, cough syrup, antibiotics, and nebulizers.

Signora Laura and Signor Antonio help us find the right cold medicine, cough syrup, and antibiotics.   They also rent nebulizers for 50 cents a day.  And Signor Antonio offers off-road adventure tours around Umbria in his jeep when he’s not working here.

A table full of Italian flu remedies

A table full of Italian flu remedies

We’ve been holed up in the apartment for days. Tom and Ray have missed a week of school.  It’s easy to feel vulnerable in a foreign country when you’re sick.  All the usual comforts are thousands of miles away. I don’t recognize the brands of medicine. I don’t know all the right words in Italian for our symptoms.  And we hadn’t even met a doctor.

Until today.  We dug up the number that Matt had found way back in August and gave him a ring.

The doctor answered the phone and listened to my attempts at describing everyone’s problems: coughs, sore throats, congestion, night sweat, fatigue, etc.  He concluded that we all have the flu and recommended a symptom reducer called Paracetamolo, and then asked me to call back in four days if we weren’t better.  So Matt ran across the street to pick it up.  Ten minutes after taking it, Ray had a stomach ache, Tom had a headache and I felt vertigo.  So I called him back to ask if this was all a normal reaction to the medicine.  He said it has nothing to do with the medicine and that these were all classic flu symptoms.

I kept asking questions.  He sensed my apprehension.  He finally agreed to see us.

There are several differences between doctor visits in Italy and the US.  The biggest is obviously the fact that Italy has a universal healthcare system; every citizen is entitled see a doctor,  and it doesn’t cost anything for an appointment.  And anyone, including an Italian, a tourist, or an undocumented immigrant, gets free emergency room treatment as long as he or she needs while in Italy.  Another difference is that doctors make house calls when a patient is sick.  So today, we didn’t even need to leave the apartment.

We liked this man a lot except for the fact that he closed his eyes when the flash went off and I was too embarrassed to ask to take another picture.  It does give him a very calm and reassured look though.

We liked this doctor a lot except for the fact that he closed his eyes when the flash went off. It does give him a very calm and reassured look though.

He arrived at our door with his satchel and notebook.  We took turns breathing for him while he listened to our lungs for signs of pneumonia or bronchitis.  After a few other tests, he recommended that we continue with the medicine and stay put in the apartment with lots of warmth until Monday.  Perugia is just full of the flu right now, he said.  He stayed for a little while and told us about his relatives who live in New York.   He will check on us again Saturday if we want.

In the meantime, I’m in pajamas on the couch listening to tiny, whiney violins playing in my head.  Italy is right out our door, but the energy to walk down and up the 89 stairs is too much.  To pass the time and escape the frustrations of confinement and isolation, we’ve been renting lighthearted movies set in modern Italy (but only those that are available on iTunes, which is very limiting).  Here are a few we’ve seen, in order from good to horrible:  Mid August Lunch; To Rome with Love; Under the Tuscan Sun; Eat, Pray, Love; Salt of Life; and Letters from Juliet (really dumb).  We’ve also watched all six of the Star Wars movies. (Scenes from Epsiode I and II were filmed in Italy.)

The prognosis is for three more days under covers.  Please send movie recommendations.

Immersion

Milena and Tom study their lottery ticket.  If they win, they'll split 50-50.  It's a big one.  The numbers are drawn on Epiphany.  If Tom wins, he and Heidi will buy the apartment next door to us.

The Italians have their eyes on the BIG ONE tonight.  Here Tom and Milena are studying their lottery ticket.  They’ve decided to share the winnings 50-50 in the hopes that Tom and Heidi can move here perminantly.

We have just two days left before my aunt and uncle return to the States.  I really wish that all our guests could stay for so long.  They’ve been here nearly a month.  We’ve had so much fun without ever feeling rushed.  We’ve had time to show them all of Perugia, several Umbrian towns, and then two extraordinary spots in northern Italy.

An afternoon at Perugia's San Pietro Cathedral and medieval gardens

An afternoon at Perugia’s San Pietro Basilica and medieval gardens

Visiting the art and antique fair in Arezzo.

Visiting the art and antique fair in Arezzo.

New Year's Eve in Venice.  We joined thousands in Piazza San Marco for the countdown.  The crowds were so great needed to hold hands so as not to get separated.  Even so, we lost Matt.  New Year's is crazy.  Over 350 people were injured in Italy.  And two deaths.  We returned to our hotel by 12:30 and watched the chaos from the window.

New Year’s Eve in Venice. We joined thousands in Piazza San Marco for the countdown and the shower of champagne. The crowd was so massive we needed to hold hands to stay together. Even so, we lost Matt for a while. New Year’s is crazy, so much so that over 350 people were injured in Italy. We returned to our hotel by 12:30 and watched the chaos from the window.

By now, Tom and Heidi have been here long enough to meet Italians and experience true Italian livin’.  They have made friends with our friends.  In fact, everyone who meets them wants to hang out.  This week Signora Paola, the boys’ tutor, invited us over for dinner.  And no experience is more authentic than eating a meal in an Italian’s house.

We showed up at 8pm, which is customary since Italians like to eat late.  Paola and her husband live outside Perugia on a small farm.  They have olive trees and a big garden.  As we arrived, Paola’s entire family was waiting for us.  We met everyone including her husband, two sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.  The table was full of drinks and appetizers, so we sat down immediately.  Paola’s husband, Willy, poured his homemade hot pepper apertif, which was made from infusing garden-grown peppers in alcohol for several weeks.  (We liked it so much that they later sent us home with a bottle.)  Then platters were passed and we filled our plates with chicken liver crostini, pieces of pork head, fennel and grapefruit salad, anchovy and egg crostini, pecorino cheese with an assortment of homemade spreads, and potato chips.  We were all full before the official first course.

The huge table filled the entire kitchen

The huge table filled the entire kitchen

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Then Paola served plates of mushroom pasta while explaining that her mother-in-law foraged the mushrooms out in the woods herself.  New bottles of wine were opened.  Knowing the boys weren’t mushroom fans, Paola offered a meat and tomato pasta for them.  The next course was wild boar with a side of broccoli rabe.  We were stuffed before the first bite; however, each dish was so good, we continued to eat and eat and eat.  Next came a plate of oranges drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  One bite and I was convinced that this is the best way to enjoy a slice of orange.

For dessert Paola and Willy offered five different kinds of cookies and three home made after-dinner-drinks.

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It was a feast.

It’s like this every weekend, Paola said.

Before we left, Paola's son performed some magic tricks

Before we left, Paola’s son performed some magic

Tom got to be the magician's assistant, but still couldn't figure any of the tricks

Tom got to be the magician’s assistant but still couldn’t figure out any of the tricks

While I would never have enough courage to cook an Italian meal for Paola, I asked if she would consider visiting us in the United States.  She agreed, so  maybe  someday we can return the favor.

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