Sunday, October 21, 2012

More Trouble With Gnomes...

  About a week after we got back home from Umbria this year, I noticed a little fellow hanging out in the front garden. Sure, he was tucked away in a corner, keeping all to himself (and his bunny), and I was stunned into gleeful, albeit momentary, silence. A big smile spread across my face as I yelled to Johnny....
  "Baaaaby! You have got to see this!"

Really, he and his furry side kick are now living in the back garden.
Thanks C&L....!
(one is just enough, all you readers...seriously.)

  A gnome had followed us home.
  After posting about the gnomes around Umbria last year, I guess it shouldn't have surprised me. It was only a matter of time. 
  It only took a minute or two to figure out just who would actually go that extra mile and tuck one into the front yard. Yes, you know who you are, dear friends..... 

 What can I say? It started as a fun game to play while idly driving around the countryside, looking for places for Johnny to paint. I would spy them here and there, guarding front gates and gardens. Doing their little gnome-y jobs. This soon became my obsession du jour, with poor Johnny putting up with my constant yelping "stop the car!"
  Anyway, this year I tried, I really just let it go when I saw them. But I couldn't. There were too many great shots. 
  For the blog, of course. Of course! Once I had argued it all out in my little pea brain, I let go of all pretense and just had more fun with gnomes. I mean, come on...they're all around, and so damn fun to search out. 

We spotted this cool gardener gnome in Piegaro one day.

While walking around Castiglione del Lago, I saw this cheery dude with his pup in a garden..
The guy in the background didn't notice me, thankfully.

  Sometimes we'll be driving, and need to quickly pull the car over, or at least slow down. But we also spot them just taking walks around the area.  These below were all in one little spot near town. We were out on a long morning walk when we came across them. Good find.

Your eyes have to really be sharp to know what to look for. See the little white beard way up there?

Yep. And he's got pals. Bingo.

He's got lots of pals, it appears. Very odd scene, but I love it.

This one cracked us up. We were just walking around Castiglione del Lago, and there he was.
With his gal pal. And mushroom.

  Here are some of the gatekeepers, those rough and tough types that keep your property safe from harm.

Well, I just wonder what he's got in that wheel barrow. I think he's had enough, whatever it is.

It's all good.

And on the other side, the fellow who spills water all over.

This little light keeper lives in a garden in Monticchiello.

  This window display below we must have driven past bunches of times, before I noticed the group hanging out here. It was the colorful petunias that drew my eye, then we had to pull over to get the shot.

A real treat.

My hands-down favorite of this particular bunch. He's just so goofy.
Well, it is Dopey.

Another light keeper, just hanging out on the front porch. Waving "Ciao" to everyone.

 Ok. We went for this wonderful drive up over the ridge to Citta di Castello one day. On the way back home, we stopped at the mountain top bar/cafe for a sunset glass of wine. The views were amazing, the lake looked gorgeous way below, and it was just so pleasant. I swear, the last thing on my mind were gnomes. Honest, I wasn't even trying....
  But then...

From the front....

...and from the back.

  This year I really tried to get more shots of the whole gang, Snow White & The Rest Of Them. Known in Italy as Biancaneve e i sette nani. I think I had seen them all maybe only once, and felt lucky at that. We wandered a little further afield this year, for sure. But I had a mission, and I was stickin' to it. 
  Oh, if I'd only stopped while I was ahead..... before the trouble.

Nice and bright group here. Very, um, citrus-y. Near the fishing museum in San Feliciano.

Though the woman of the house is missing, I feel the lovely espalier rose fills in nicely.
We were at the farmer's market in Magione, going back to the car.

Johnny scoped out this total score all on his own. Very bright bunch.
Castiglione del Lago.

Spied this lovely group in front of a trattoria in Cortona.
 I've always loved Dopey.

  I just want to say that I love this scene below. There is something just so bizarre about the Mother Mary shrine, with the little party going on below. This was a really sweet garden, too.  We were out near Pietrafitta that day. Just taking a drive...

A drive-by shot that isn't great, but...I still had to have it.

One day, while driving around the area, we stopped into the very beautiful village, Monte del Lago. It's a great place to spend a little time while you are visiting Lago Trasimeno. The town sits above the lake and has spectacular views.
  We were walking around just relaxing, doing some serious "hand-holding", when I saw this group across a bit of lawn. I just think it has a certain poignancy. I know, it's silly, but it seems a little sad. And beautiful...
  Have I gone over the Sette Nani edge? Uh-oh...

A little something extra in this group. Wistful, maybe.

A cheerier bunch closer to home. These we found in Panicarola.

 Well, if you have made it this far with me, I have a story of woe to share, here at the end.
  I went too far. Got too comfortable in my role as "photographer abroad". I forgot my place, and pushed it beyond social acceptance.
  Do I have to explain? You know what I did, right? No? Well, let me tell you. I got in trouble with the gnomes. The shot below...the last photo? It most likely is the last photo I ever take of my friends, the sette nani.

  It started out like any other day trip, just cruising around, doing a whole lot of nothing. We had gone shopping for groceries at the coop, and were just driving around aimlessly, if I remember correctly. And, oh, I do remember correctly. I still get all red with blushing, and an uncomfortable warm feeling of embarrassment every time I think about this. We were just killing time, waiting until GMB opened, so we could stop for a glass of vino before heading home. It was a nice afternoon.
  That's when I saw them.
  Yes, this big, happy party going on under a great big fir or pine tree. Whatever. I had to stop. Had to have Johnny pull the car over. I'll admit, he'd been warning me...I was taking too long for the perfect picture the last few times we'd stopped. I needed to be quick, snap it and be done. Ideally, not even get out of the car.
  But no, I was getting all pro-photo-girl with it. Taking it way too seriously. In this I was sooo wrong. I didn't realize that I was playing a game I didn't know the rules to. It was bound to happen eventually. And it did.

  It was a tough picture to get, hard to get the whole gang into one great shot. So I was getting closer, moving in, trying different angles, when the screen door opened and a large, angry looking man started asking me what I was doing. In Italian, of course. I tried to explain, in Italian, (ha ha) that I was taking photos of his wonderful collection. "I love the sette nani!", I was saying, big smile on my face. This had worked every time before. No problem. Hey, I'm lovable! I'm a harmless tourist! I have a blog!
  Yeah, tell that to the polizia.
  It was awful. It was so awful. He was really peeved.... and of course he didn't understand. All he knew was that there was some crazy American lady on his property taking photographs, while a car idled nearby, ready to zoom off at any moment. I'm an idiot. What did I expect? Oh, man.
  As I apologized over and over, backing away towards the car, he followed, angry and confused. He was yelling, and it was not good.
 And Johnny was mad, too. For every good reason. Really, I'm an idiot. Ay-yi-yi. (right now, I'm getting all embarrassed again, just thinking about this)

  This was a good lesson learned, my traveling friends. I do know better, that's what bothers me the most. 99% of folks are lovely, and don't mind. Hell, this man may have been fine, if I could have explained and apologized more. Mister Man, I'm really sorry I scared you and upset your lunch and afternoon....really.
  Totally my bad, on this one. And no, there were no polizia, thank god.

  So. Enjoy this picture, and remember to listen to your inner, smarter self, when out and about in the world.....We all have our boundaries.

Was it worth the price? Lesson learned. Big time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

More Tasty Memories

  It's no big secret, I love the food in Italy. Every time I get into a conversation about our trips, it's only a matter of moments before the inevitable "What about the food?" question comes up. Before weather, before lodging, before always comes down to the food experiences. 
  Hey, I get it. I'm pretty much all about the food. Thank god I have a good walking regime while there....if not, I would be rolling myself back home, no doubt about it. Hmmm...not a bad idea, since I do hate flying...? Think on it, Janelle.....

  I enjoy cooking wherever we are stay, for sure, but I also love going on our little day trips, eye always out for some little spot to stop for lunch. Umbria is full of little towns, which always have one or more cafe, osteria, trattoria or ristorante. The bigger cities have lots of options. We never strike out, it seems.
  Just down the road in Paciano, we had our second lunch at La Loggetta, an osteria we tried on our last trip in 2011, which I wrote about here. We knew there was a festa going on, so we walked over with the plan of another nice meal. We found out that La Loggetta has changed hands a few times in the last several years, and has mixed reviews from the locals, but we enjoyed both of our visits. We were thrilled to see they had a special of artichokes served five ways. We were in!

  We started with a nice cheese platter, including some decadent fried cheeses..really, who could resist? Don't answer that.

Cheeses to have with a nice crisp Umbrian white wine, and crunchy bread...

  So after luscious bites and sips, we moved onto the artichokes...

From the left, creamy artichoke soup, artichoke stuffed with cheese & breadcrumbs, artichoke braised and served
with balsamic reduction, artichoke frittata, and  crunchy fried artichokes....

  We shared these two starters, so of course we needed a little pasta for energy to walk home. We both had the house special that day, house made umbricelli with rape, sort of like broccoli rabe, a nice bitter green sautéed with lemon and lots of garlic. A generous sprinkle of pecorino, and done.

Sitting on the terrace, so fine!

  I have also written about my love of the Tavola Calda, a sort of buffet style place to have lunch, or take away, only so much better. And inexpensive, which is always a plus. This year we had our eyes peeled for any sign of these, wanting to try some place new. We did, and also we went back to the places we tried last year. I would love to open a place like this somewhere close to home. Walking distance would be sweet.
  The place below is just outside of Tavernelle, down the hill from Panicale. This is the sign you are looking for, my friends. Don't be put off if it looks like a bar, or cafeteria, just give it a go, and head on in. Most likely you will be the only non-local there, as these places are usually filled with workers of all types on lunch break.

Nothing too fancy,  but full of good, home cooked yumminess.

  We can always count on good vegetarian options, and usually quite a few of them. The veg dishes are considered sides to the main event, which is a pasta or meat dish. But we'll just ask for a plate of "verdure miste", mixed vegetables, and see what we get. Or, there will be certain casserole type dishes we can point to and ask if they are vegetarian. It's a great way to push through the language "comfort zone", and try to use new vocabulary.

A typical mix of warm veggies..served with a basket of bread on the side.

  We decided to try the rice and zucchini dish they had here, too. Not risotto, but really good. We shared the veggies, and each had a little of the rice. It was warm and just rich enough. Love the glistening olive oil.....

We love that these are the "fast food" lunch stops of the town. 

Grilled and marinated veggies along with a stuffed tomato. Another day, another lunch.

This place had a super nice mix of casserole dishes, and we tried several of them. This was in Arezzo.

A favorite place in Tavernelle, Il Capriccio, that we have been to several times...we like the young man behind the counter, Lorenzo. This was a first stop this year!

At Il Capriccio, we also tried this baked pasta with baby artichokes.

The place below, which I am afraid I do not know the name of, was tucked down a side street in Citta di Castello. It was a nice day, and we were able to sit outside.
   It seemed very popular, and had a lot of office type workers in for lunch. I am always astounded at the big plates of pasta, followed by a meat course that the locals put away during lunch. I would want nothing but a nice long nap afterwards. I suppose that is exactly the purpose of the quick shot of espresso at the end....

A fabulous find in Citta di Castello. A place known for it's massive steaks, we had a wonderful veg meal here.

At "Faliero", now a favorite stop for us near the lake. Always too much food! We share, at least....
The "sandwich" is Johnny's idea of heaven.."Torta al Testo" is a traditional Umbrian dish.

  This year we made it to Pellicano. We had driven by this spot between Panicale and Castiglione del Lago many, many times, but never tried it. Our friend, Katia had told us it was good. Now that we know, we'll be regulars, too!
  It is a wacky scene, long communal tables everywhere, really great and helpful wait staff, and fantastic pizzas at great prices. The pastas look good, too, but we come for the pizza. This place rocks, literally, after the dinner crowd moves along. There is the pizzeria/birreria that seats more people than you can count, and then there is the bar upstairs. We hear Mario Batali has been known to party all hours here, but it could be a rumor...Live music until 3am.
  We go for the pizza. Thin, toasted crusts with every type of topping you can imagine. I love the simplicity of the onion and sage, but would be happy to have an arugula, potato and asiago right now, please. The weather on our 3rd and final visit this year was warm, and there were tons of people inside, as well as outside. Families, groups of young people, and couples like us, all crowded together and enjoying every moment.
  We love it. We have promised ourselves that it will be a first stop next time! And no fooling around, I am going at least once a week. It is that good, and that affordable. I can't wait. Plus, it's just so fun to "people watch" into the wee hours.
  Pellicano, I love thee.


  So, knowing it's only a matter of a few months, we are once again watching our calories and exercising regularly, preparing for the inevitable chowdown to come. Is that so wrong?