Archive for April, 2013

Buono in Italy, Vitorchiano and beyond

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Bone-tired yet bubbling with excitement for our travelers, not tourists Etruscans-Umbria adventure, our puddle-jump overnight train from Milan arrived in Orte, Italy at the good Friday 6am crack of dawn. Brief train stops included Florence, and Pisa.We left Paris with a sweet sage chicken salad picnic and too much baggage on a fast comfortable TGV for a seven-hour ride to Milan where we tranferred to a local train for Orte, sitting up all night for seven hours in a packed car, a compartment designed for six, stuffed with eight passengers. Many Italian travelers, heading home  to Naples for Easter, dozed on corridor floors, or even sitting on toilets. Chablis, overwhemed and exhausted, slept all the way, cozied between Jim and me. Our friendly Italian compartment mates offered us strawberries and a chorus of Oh Solo Mio.  Mercifully our hotel was a brief walk from Gare Orte.  Jim, Chablis and I rang the bell on the ornate iron fence and soon a young Italian woman stood there. Gesturing with her fingers she told us Hotel Letiza, a restored Italian villa,  did not open until 9 am. Pleading fatigue and a desperate toilet need, she opened the gate for us, smiled, threw up her hands, and told us the hotel had suffered a lighting strike overnight and had no power. A ready room was found for us and charming Gabriella led us with a battery-powered lantern to our second floor chamber where we all fell into a comfy queen-size bed. Gabriella called us at 9 am to tell us colazione, breakfast-included in our room rate- was ready. On the window-side dining room table we found the typical Italian morning repast, strong, buono-so good!, Italian coffee with hot milk, delicious red orange juice squeezed from Sicilian blood oranges, and cornettos, Italian croissants filled with strawberry and lemon creme.

Back to our room for a welcome shower, we took another train-lag nap, and at 1pm  Gabriel called us to pranzo-lunch. We wandered down near 2 for antipasto mista- marinated vegetables, salami and incredible Bruschetta, then pasta with tomato sauce, THEN manzo, beef scallopini- simply sauteed meat- and green salad. Mangia, Mangia, too much eat, eat! Bread, pane, is different in Italy, unsalted. In the early middle-ages the rulers of Pisa cut off salt supplies lines from the coast in retaliation of a fall out with their rival in Florence. In 1540 Pope Paul III imposed an indrect tax on salt, which immediately changed the culinary habits. Some Italians still swear that “filone” tasts better that way. Not Jim, he poured olive salt onto a plate, sprinkled salt then dipped the bread. As Europeans do, we also mop up sauce and gravies with bread.Mangia,mangia!

The hotel’s Aphrodite cultural center featured the oil paintings of Naples artist Ennio Colavero. I knew my Paris art teacher Renée Mauri-Amoros would be proud that I didn’t miss the show. During an afternoon camminare-walk, we stopped for tea at a local bar-cafe. The only English speaking patrons, adults and children greeted us with stares, smiles and a friendly Buona sera, good afternoon. No dinner that night, books, early to bed, up early for another colazione the next morning. Sergio was coming to fetch us for Vitorchiano!



Constant craving

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Often I seek out real life in Paris, longing to satisfy my craving to be a traveler instead of a tourist, to walk on off the beaten path narrow cobblestone streets, to savor cuisine not dusted by tourists waving tattered Rick Steves’ guidebooks, and avoid desert-dry overcooking. The desire to “live real” has taken over, somewhat satiated by our own good home cooking and once a week French art classes where I was the only English speaker. Now another English speaker has joined, learning to paint from an elegant spirited French woman and improve language skills too.

Our Easter weekend trip satisfied and also stirred my desires as my husband Jim and I plus our small dog Chablis journeyed 950 miles from Paris to the  Italian countryside via 14 hours on a  fast and slow train. Just like Harriet Sackett in the novel “The Etruscan,” we traveled to Vitorchiano, an hour north of Rome,  in search of history and connection.

Linda Lappin, “The Etruscan” author and her  Italian husband of 21 years Sergio Baldassarre-a renowned Italian cook and dramatist- own a home in old town Vitorchiano.  They spend their weekdays in Rome, Linda teaching, Sergio working as a functionnaire. We first met in 2006 when I attended a writing workshop led by American Cecilia Wolloch in Centro Pokkoli, Linda’s writing center in the double- walled medievil village.

Born of the earth centuries ago by volcanic eruptions, the Etruscan village with earth-brown stone walls, crooked lanes and dramatic cliffs was just what the adventure doctor ordered.  We breathed in cool rain-cleansed country air as we arrived through the gates into the village, staring at the massive Piazza Saint Agnese clock tower.The writing center, our home for the long weekend, stood just across the corner, a warm welcoming flat with a port window view of the valley. I could feel the center’s spirit of place and deep mapping, two of Linda’s writing philosophies, where poet Cecilia Wolloch, Jeffrey Greene, author of “French Spirits” and Linda herself  have guided so many writers. “Bird by Bird” by Annie Lamott and Sue Kidd’s, “The Secret life of Bees” rested among the old friends welcoming us  on the smooth wood writing table. Jim and I slowly exhaled. Chablis sniffed around and settled down for a nap Yes, we were really here.

Next- Sergio’s cuisine and Beyond Vitorchiano and photos

Travelers instead of tourists

Linda Lappin