Saturday, 9 February 2013

SABINA TRAVELOGUE PART 20 - April 9 - Pasquetta Perfetta with Friends in Fiumicino

Monte Terminillo in the Appenines above the Reatine Plain. courtesy Wikipedia
The rain storm that began Sunday afternoon continued well into the evening. All through the night frosty winds howled angrily through the twisting cobbled streets of the borgo threatening to unhinge any persiane, or storm shutters that were not properly locked and even loosen some of the old terracotta roof tiles. It was like the last jealous rampage of the god of winter. When we woke up this morning the rain had stopped, the Sabine sun was out, and Monte Tancia (1292m), Monte Pizzuto (1288m) and other mountains to the east of us were crowned with white snow... 

It is a gorgeous day... a perfect day for a new adventure, a great meal, and a lot of fun. Today we are off to Fiumicino to have a fabulous home-cooked  Roman lunch with our friends the Fidales. I checked Facebook to see in there were any last minute instructions.

Fiumicino, Isola Sacra and the mouth of the Tiber and Lago Traiano courtesy RaBoe/Wikipedia
Facebook Post from Massimo: Pasquetta perfetta.......

- amici perfetti e amorevoli James, Richard, Candace, in un clima di allegria e spensieratezza, dove per un giorno non c'era spazio per i cattivi pensieri, ma solo per l'amicizia e la fraternità: Pranzo : antipasto di formagi e confetture, salami affumicati, e prosciutti, bagnato con prosecco di Valdobiadene Mionetto; rigatoni alla amatriciana; carciofi alla giudia; abbacchio al forno alle erbe del giardino di Massimo, con patate arrosto; cazzimperio di finocchi, ravanelli e cuori di sedano bianco con olio della Bassa Sabina; il tutto innaffiato da un buon Brunello di Montalcino del 2004; per dessert, crostata alla marmellata di arance , fatta in casa e di nuovo prosecco; caffe e grappa barricata…

Grazie amici miei.................

Whoa! Now that is a menu to look forward to!

Enigmatic Monte Soratte on the hazy horizon
Easter Monday, or Pasquetta, is a holiday in Italy. The rain washed streets were deserted except for a few storm weary cats who were sunning themselves on various perches along our route. The population of Casperia grows to its largest, it seems, during the Easter long weekend. Houses which are normally shuttered and empty exuded tantalizing aromas of Pasquetta family breakfasts. There was no one in the town square, in fact the bar where we were to buy our bus and train tickets was closed... "Oh!..." Hmmmm. What to do? Oh well, we thought there had to be a way of paying by cash and patiently waited for the 9:15 bus which had been listed on the Cotral website that would take us to meet the 9:40 train from Poggio Mirteto that would take us to our friends' place in Fiumicino. 

As we waited, Candace and Richard made friends with a beautiful cat who was sunning himself in front of the post office. 

Kitty Telepathy???
I have to say it is hard to miss Vancouver when you are in a place like this, but I think we both wake up in the middle of the night and automatically reach out our hand to pat our cat Smokey who is thousands of miles away in Vancouver. 

Smokey, asleep, at home in Vancouver, who may or may not be dreaming about us in the Sabina.
I know he is safe, but I miss him... Every time we stop to talk to or pat a cat here seems like our attempt to telepathically pass on a hello or a friendly scratch or a pat to our furry boy.

It was getting very close close to 9:15 and there was still no sign of the bus to Poggio Mirteto, although a bus going to Roccantica had passed by going the other way earlier. I began to get worried. 

Earlier an older gentleman in a stunning Tuscan yellow sweater had walked by... It seems that he and his wife were looking to see if the flower shop was open, but it wasn't. He noticed we were looking a bit worried and we explained we were waiting for the bus to the station but that it looked like it was going to be late, or not come at all. He conferred with his wife and they said, "Please, come with us." Once again we were rescued by the kindness of the local people. We piled into the car, thanking them profusely. 

These kind and generous people were from Montasola, a town completely in the opposite direction from our destination, Poggio Mirteto Scalo. They weren't just going 20 minutes out of their way... they were going 40 minutes out of their way. We apologized (like Canadians do) saying that we had checked the schedule online but that the bus hadn't come. Our rescuer said, "But this is Italy. This kind of thing happens often." From there the discussion turned, as it inevitably does, to the state of the economy and the low esteem most Italians seem to have for their politicians... "Ladroni! Thieves, every one of them!" 

As the discussion progressed our driver got more agitated and drove faster and faster often turning around while driving at full tilt to look at me to emphasize something he was saying. This type of driving makes me nervous in Canada, where we have straighter and wider roads and where most people obey the speed limits, but what could I say? We were careening down narrow country roads way over the speed limit because these people were trying to rescue us from a missed train. Every second counted... I must admit that when the opportunity presented that I closed my eyes... I was that nervous.

Luckily, we arrived in time and all in one piece. Breathlessly, we thanked our gallant rescuers and ran for the train, or at least Candace ran for the train, and we ran to buy tickets at the station bar. When we ran back to the overpass to get to Binario 3 we expected Candace would be there waiting for us, but she had actually taken the wrong turn and was behind us. We made it to the train okay (there were lots of seats) but the run and the stress gave Candace an asthma attack. Poor thing, she coughed most of the way to Rome. 

While Candace recovered a couple of seats away, and Richard dozed, I stared out the window at the changing scenery. Rome is an amazing city, but it does not show its best side toward the train tracks. 

This image is "borrowed" from
Most of the buildings are covered in graffiti, most of it inane, some of it striking in its artistry, most of it in support of or calling down some soccer team or other. What is truly beautiful to see from the train windows are the splashes of brilliant crimson from the Roman poppies that grow in wild profusion along the train tracks. In full sun these floral displays are truly stunning.

The train wended its way through Rome. As we passed through Trastevere I gave a call to Massimo to let him know we would meet him at the Parco Leonardo station about ten minutes later. 

One of the truly delightful things about Italian culture is that when friends meet, no matter which gender combination, people kiss each other. On seeing each other, there were loud shouts of Candace! Massimo! Richard! James! and we were embraced by Massimo in turn, and kissed on each cheek, first the left, then the right. This is something I know I will miss in Canada... Then again, perhaps we should insist on popularizing this elevated aspect of Italian culture in our cold northern country. Somehow I think that this would help the tomatoes in our little garden on Hawks Avenue to ripen better. We'll start off with Smokey and go from there.

Massimo whisked us off on a wonderful tour of Fiumicino, first taking us through the beach area with all it's wonderful apartments. We got out of the car and took a couple of pictures of the Tyrhennian Sea... "Over there, Sardegna!" 

A lot of Fiumincino is built on an an artificial island called Isola Sacra created at the mouth of the Tiber in imperial times. Rome's more ancient port, Ostia, was built on the south branch of the Tiber. As the need for a larger port grew greater, the republican era Ostia was superseded by a newer, larger Imperial operation called Portus which was built on the north side of the Tiber. Roman remains from this period can be seen all over Isola Sacra. 

Massimo took us through some beautiful countryside along a tiny road to show us the remains of the old Roman necropolis which grew up alomg the road linking Ostia and Portus. 


Photo courtesy of Massimo Fidale
Photo courtesy of Massimo Fidale
Photo courtesy of Massimo Fidale
As we ooohed and aaaahed and took pictures of the ruins, nearby an elderly gentleman showed a younger women how to search for wild chicory long the road.
Hunting for wild chicory

From there Massimo drove us to his house where his wife Paola and his daughter Diandra were waiting for us. Their house has a lovely garden with olive trees, a lemon tree, even some kumquat trees. 

Both the lemon and kumquat trees were covered with fruit. The house inside was of course beautiful, the walls covered with some pretty amazing art including a number of pieces that Massimo had painted. 

Appetiser course. When Massimo said we were going to make a mess, he was prepared with large bibs!
Our focus of the day though was la cucina which was large and welcoming. The lunch we were served was phenomenal... 

Richard is almost overcome by the heady aroma of the Amatriciana sauce.

Richard and Paola hamming it up!
Candace and Diandra
From the appetizers to the pasta and mains and then the dessert, everything was typically Roman (with a few Sabine touches like Sabina D.O.P. Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Pasta all'Amatriciana). It was an amazing feast. 

Cin cin! Alla famiglia! Photo courtesy of Diandra Fidale
Time constraints don't allow me to recount every delicacy we were served but I have to say, that among all the incrediblydelicious things that were we're treated to, the menu item that will stick out forever  in my mind were the Jewish style deep fried artichokes.

Chef Massimo preparing the Carciofi alla Giudia
The Master at work! Such concentration!
This particular way of preparing and serving artichokes is peculiar to Rome and apparently originated in the Jewish community there. I have been to Rome a number of times and have always wanted to try them but have never had the opportunity.

The sharp tips are carefully trimmed and the inedible choke scraped out. Washed, and then carefully dried, the roman artichokes are plunged into boiling oil and deep fried and then served lightly salted.
Photo courtesy of
The outside leaves are crispy golden brown while the inside is perfectly cooked and sooo delicious. Pure heaven! The artichokes were a definite highlight to a menu that was so carefully selected and lovingly and proudly executed... Veramente indimenticabilemente buoni! 

This was our first time to be invited into an Italian family's home. It was a huge honour. Their warm welcome was humbling. The hodgepodge of English and Italian conversation interspersed with joking, singing and laughing was hilarious.
Carmen Miranda's Siamese Twin brothers! What a bunch of hams!
The rest of the afternoon was spent talking about all sort of things both inside the house and out in the golden Roman sun. At times, various friends and relatives dropped by to say hi. More wine was drunk... the best Italian red I have ever set my lips to... Grazie Massimo! Then it was marmalade tarte for dessert, coffee, and grappa... And then, sadly, it was time to leave.

On our way out Massimo and Paola presented us with a bag of their freshly picked lemons... 

Their scent was so intoxicating that Richard got a litte carried away.

It was very hard to say goodbye. Even though we know we will see Massimo and Paola and their family again before we leave, it was very hard to go....

The Fidale family home, designed and built by Massimo
Paolo and Massimo saw us off at the train station. We were sent off with huge and kisses (and warnings to be careful about certain people on the train). 

As we rode the train east through Rome and into the Sabine hills once more the sky turned a shade of lavender casting a surreal light on the rows of umbrella pines that marked our route back home. 

Photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
The bus ride from Poggio Mirteto was crazy as usual. I wonder what Canadian bus drivers would think of the circuitous roads their Italian counterparts have to negotiate at high speeds every day...

What an amazing day. We have to thank so many people... from the truly wonderful couple from Montasola who drove us to the Poggio Mirteto Station, to our hosts, the Fidale family: Massimo, Paola and Diandra. Grazie di cuore per un giorno veramente indimenticabile.

Casperia, by Giorgio Clementi

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