Friday 28 December 2012

SABINA TRAVELOGUE PART 13 - April 1 - Wild Boars, Chili Peppers and Ceramics

This morning we woke to a loud caterwauling outside our window. Some cat has entered the territory of another, and it being told off.  I hope that the confrontation is only verbal and not physical. It is a beautiful sunny day here. I have just made a frittata with Roman zucchini, prosciutto, and three types of local cheese.

Richard is making a second pot of coffee. Where is Candace ?

Today there is another Sagra or food festival in the area. This time it is in a town on the Etruscan side of the Tiber, across from Poggio Mirteto Scalo, a hilltown called Torrita Tiberina

Torrita Tiberina courtesy of Andrea Di Palermo
From what I have seen of the town from across the river, and from some research I have done online, it looks like a place worth visiting, even if there was no Sagra there. 

Savelli Castle at Nazzano Romano by Matteo Bordini courtesy of
Just down the road, is another picturesque hilltown, with a castle, called Nazzano Romano which, if I cannot make it to this time, I hope we can visit on our next trip to Italy.

The food being celebrated at the Sagra in Torrita Tiberina is Pappardelle al Cinghiale

Pappardelle with a Ragu of Wild Boar courtesy of
... and I love wild boar... but, without a car, I am not so sure we can make it. Either way, today will be another great day in La Bassa Sabina.


Among of the gifts we received yesterday from our friends visiting from Vetralla and Fiumicino were some cloth red pepper charms. I received this post from Paola explaining the meaning of the red chili pepper charm...

Post by Paola: Il nostro peperoncino... good luck.

Il peperoncino ricorda molto un corno di corallo e quindi si associa ad un porta fortuna. Spesso i corni in corallo vengono regalati ai bimbi appena nati per proteggerli dalle arpie che potrebbero dar loro il malocchio. In realtà il peperoncino pianta urticante è legata al fuoco della passione ed all'amore. Si usava in polvere per avvicinare amanti o sotto il cuscino per scoprire tradimenti. Portato in tasca ad un appuntamento assicura una buona riuscita dell atto sessuale.

Translation: our chili ... good luck.
The chili is very reminiscent of a horn of coral and therefore is associated with good luck. Often the horns of coral are given as a present to newborn babies to protect them from harpies that may give them the malocchio or evil eye. In fact, the stinging pepper plant is related to the fire of passion and love. Powder was used to bring lovers or placed under the pillow to discover treachery. Carried in the pocket on a date it ensures the success of the sexual act.

This was followed by a post about the significance of garlic...

Post by Paola: Aglio!!! Per la bruschetta.......dedicata a Candace...ahahahhahhaa!!! 
L'aglio un disinfettante naturale molto caro ai contadini che ne tenevano sempre una treccia nella cucina. Esso ha infatti il potere di assorbire il male e respingerlo. In magia viene usato per allontanare le larve astrali durante i rituali tenuto al collo di un bimbo allontana i vermi. In antichita' era il piu' potente antisettico conosciuto.

Translation: Garlic! For the bruschetta ....... dedicated to Candace ... ahahahhahhaa!
Garlic is a natural disinfectant much loved by peasants who always kept a braid in the kitchen. It has the power to absorb and reject evil. In magic it is used to remove the astral larvae during rituals. Held at the neck of a child, it banishes worms. In antiquity it was the most powerful antiseptic known.

As you might have expected, I didn't make it to Torrita Tiberina for the Sagra Pappardelle al Cinghiale... But that is okay... Tomorrow is another day, in fact it is my birthday, and we plan to head north to Orvieto in Umbria to celebrate...

Orvieto panorama courtesy of
We visited Orvieto  twice before, once in 1999, when we stayed overnight at the Hotel Virgilio, and once in 2009 on a day trip from Casperia.

When we first visited our friend Steve in Rome in 1999 he had in his possesion a number of amazing rustic pottery ewers. Steve called them bucchero... apparently they are modeled on ancient Etruscan pottery.

I fell in love with them and hoped I could find similar pottery to buy in Orvieto. I searched all over the place but could not find anything during that trip. During our visit in 2009 I tried again, and after searching all over Orvieto I finally found one shop on Vicolo dei Dolci off the Piazza del Duomo called Orviet'Anna that sold them.  


The glazing wasn't exactly like that on the ewers my friend Steve had in Rome, but they were close enough. I was in heaven, and I ended up buying two medium-sized ewers and a number of smaller items to take home to Canada.

Tomorrow, my goal is to find some more pottery by the same artist, Luigi Pierini, who made the wine ewers we bought three years ago... 

This time perhaps I will find a pasta bowl or platter, or both... or some plates...

Tonight we had a nice quiet evening at home. I made braised ciccoria and a mix of Umbrian lentils and farro for dinner. We drank a bottle of Pecorino wine from the EcofattorieSabine and had pecorino cheese from there as well. After dinner, we took a small passagiatta through the dark cobbled streets of the old town looking at houses for sale and dreaming. It is good to dream. Buona notte!

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Buon Natale!

The world's first Nativity Scene, or Presepe, in Italian, was created with live actors by St. Francis of Assissi in 1223 in Greccio, a beautiful hill town in the Sabina.  For those of you who celebrate Christmas, you probably have had a little bit of the Sabina in your home all these years and never knew it.

It seems that even as early as the 1200s things could get out of hand on Christmas, as St. Francis' recreation of the Nativity was his attempt to place the emphasis of Christmas upon the worship of Christ rather than upon secular materialism and gift giving.

Casperia in the snow in early 2012 courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Casperia, the town we stay in when we visit the Sabina, is famous for its monumental Presepe...

Presepe Monumentale from Comune di Casperia website
...which was recently named by the Italian government as one of the Wonders of Italy, but like many places around the world at Christmas time, they also have a tradition of a living Nativity Scene as you will see in this video

Over the last few days I have noted a number of posts on Facebook that talk about the various religious traditions whose divities were all born on December 25th (or around the time of the Winter Solstice).  

Some of the people who post these may be doing so to poke fun at Christmas, but for me, this debate only reinforces the fact that this time of year is sacred and has been sacred and special to many people and for many reasons... For me, it is all the more reason to gather with family and friends, remember, light candles, share food, and celebrate. Merry Christmas. Buon Natale!

Friday 21 December 2012

SABINA TRAVELOGUE PART 12 - March 31 - Face to Face (and Heart to Heart) with Facebook Friends

The chirping, warbling, and twitter of a variety of birds mingle with the clanks and clongs of far off sheep bells and the intermittent barking of vigilant sheepdogs. These are the sounds that we hear outside our window this beautiful Saturday morning in Sabina. Today is a special day, among many wonderful days, here in the Sabina. Today is the day that we meet face to face with some very special Facebook Friends: Clelia Angelelli and her partner Daniele Nicastrini, and Paola Zoppi and her husband Massimo Fidale. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Clelia grew up in Casperia in a house on Vicolo Serpenti.  It was through my posting of a picture of that street on Facebook that we began a conversation on Facebook and became Facebook friends.

Childhood memories of Casperia - Photos courtesy of Clelia Angelelli
Today together we will walk the winding stone stairs of Casperia's vie and vicoli (streets and alleys) and get to see this town through Clelia's eyes...

Our friend and guide - Courtesy of Clelia Angelelli

Today, we finally got to meet face to face with two more friends we have met through Faceboo: Clelia Angelelli and Paola Zoppi and their partners Daniele and Massimo. Yesterday was Clelia Angelelli's birthday, so we thought we should celebrate by getting a cake from her favourite bakery Figlii Giusti which is just outside the town gate. We ordered the cake yesterday. This morning, we stocked up on salami, prosciutto, and Prosecco at the alimentari to add to the ricotta al forno and pecorino we bought at the Ecofattorie Sabino in Poggio Mirteto Scalo a couple of days before.

Because we flew standby we were limited to carry-on luggage and therefore limited in the gifts we were able to bring... We had brought some maple syrup for both Clelia and Paola, but as it was Clelia's birthday I had brought some silk coasters with pictures of cats on them (Clelia is as cat crazy as we are) and Richard bought her some 3D cat playing cards. Also since Clelia was born here in Casperia, but has not lived here since childhood, we thought we should present her with some Sabina D.O.P. extra virgin olive oil, just in case she had car trouble on the way home to Vetralla ; ) Our friends from the Sabina have commented on Facebook that if we had had some Sabina D.O.P. with us the day we returned the rent-a-car to Roma, that there would have been no car problems. : )

Clelia and her friends were to arrive at 11:00, so I went down to the town gate to meet them, while Richard put out our snacks and Prosecco in the garden outside the house. As I came out the gate I could see Clelia waving with Danielle at her side. With a hug and a kiss we ended our virtual relationship and embarked on the next exciting phase of our friendship. Paola and her husband Massimo suddenly appeared from the door of the bakery. There were more hugs and kisses, and then off we went up the many stairs of Casperia...

The road to Il Sogno courtesy of Giorgio Clementi Il Sogno where I hoped Richard had everything ready. When we arrived I was delighted to find our friend Candace awake and ready to join us. Richard brought out our platters of snacks and I brought out the Prosecco and from that moment on, it seemed liked we were partying with long lost friends.

Richard, Candace and I coming up to the garden with the food - A special moment in time captured by Massimo Fidale
How can you explain it? How do I explain any of this? Words fail me... It is something beyond explaining. Suffice it to say, it was un altro giorno indementicabile nella Sabina

Facebook friends? - By this time we knew we were more than that...

We finished one bottle of Prosecco and I was about to open another when the cork exploded when I had the bottle held between my legs. There was Prosecco everywhere. In the split second of stunned surprise I felt—before I could feel any embarrassment—everyone started reaching out with their hands for the Prosecco spewing forth from the bottle and started patting each other on the face—for good luck!!! Apparently what happened was a good omen. And the day just progressed in happiness, good spirits and laughter from that moment on.

We exchanged our gifts in the garden. Clelia brought me a book of Italian cat photos...

...and she brought Richard a collection of Tiziano Ferro songs on cd. 


Clelia, me, Paola, Daniele and Massimo
We were also presented with good luck peperoncino (red chili pepper) decorations—Italian  Viagra—Massimo said. Paola and Massimo also had birthday gifts for Clelia. 

We finished our snacks and prosecco and then started a bit of a walk down memory lane with Clelia. We visited Vicolo Serpenti where she grew up. 

Walking down Vicolo Serpenti
When Clelia was a little girl, the door to her house was to the left of the door we see now.

We took a number of photos in front of her old house in different combinations...
Clelia and Paola - Bellissime!

She pointed to various doors and windows, explaining that "This was where they kept the grain"...

"This was where the rabbit hutch was", "This was where the vegetables and chestnuts were kept", "That window was the kitchen" and "That was the balcony upon which I stood and had my picture taken as a little girl."

"This was where the front door was," and "This was where the outdoor oven was for baking bread."

Earlier, enroute to our house she had pointed out the milk shop, the fruit shop and other businesses that used to exist inside the town walls but which have since all moved outside. 
It was a wonderful experience to see Casperia through Clelia's eyes. I ran back to the house to pick up the cake while everyone else continued on the tour. 

 We met up at Friends Cafe for a wonderful lunch with more wine, lots of stories, and lots and lots of laughs. 

I can't believe it.... Richard and Daniele are tap dancing together. 

Finally it was cake time. 

Here is a short video of the toast after the cake was brought out...

The people at Figlii Giusti made a truly magnificent cake, as delicious as it was beautiful. Stefano produced a bottle of Prosecco. It was perfect. 

Stefano's son Federico joined the party.


There was cake for everyone... even for the family of English tourists at the next table.

From time to time people would break off into smaller groups to talk by the wall while Clelia would have a smoke. 
I notice Richard and Massimo talking by the wall. Their happy animated profiles made me grab the camera.

I took quite a few photos... What incredible memories we are making. Sadly our time together had to come to an end.

We walked slowly down to the parking lot where we took a number of photos and promised we would see each other again before we left. What a day. What amazing people. We are truly blessed.

We made our way up the stairs to Il Sogno talking all the way about the many happy events of our day. We had smiled and laughed so much during the day that our face muscles ached! We are two very lucky guys. And our vacation is not even half over...

As I write this, Candace and Richard are happily chatting in the kitchen. I have served up a plate of salami and cheese for everyone and I have been presented with a glass of Orvieto Classico Secco in return.

The IPad has just made a funny noise and a little notice came up to say my father was on Skype. I pressed the button to start a video call and spent ten minutes talking to my Mom and Dad in Vancouver, telling them about our day. It was so great to hear their voices and to be able to reassure them that we are okay and that the people here are so wonderful and kind to us. 
I love this picture of Clelia... it truly captures her wonderful spirit

Post from Clelia: Che splendido compleanno per Tutti i Vostri Auguri....per la splendida giornata nella mia Casperia con meravigliose persone....tanti regali, foto e un pranzo con fine torta per regalo e prosecco...♥ 

Post from Paola: Non dire gatto se non l'hai nel sacco!!!!!!

Today I am reminded of the power of photography. It was this photo that I posted on Facebook a long while ago that lead a lady who lived far away across the ocean to recognize the little alley or vicolo as the street she lived in as a child in Casperia. Her comment on the photo began a dialogue which, over these past months, became a connection and an online friendship, which today blossomed into some intense connections among seven people who only a while ago were strangers to one other. What a miracle!

I can't remember the expression exactly, but I am reminded of the story about the power a single pebble has when it is tossed into a quiet pond. You can never tell how far the ripple caused by that pebble will go, or what it may affect. Today was another wonderful day for which I am exceedingly grateful. Thank you. Grazie.
Post from Massimo: Dear James and Richard and Candace, I hardly get excited me, but today I read in your faces, the serenity and happiness which you enjoy in our land! That land that maybe we do not appreciate ... I am fascinated by your house (Il Sogno), treated with taste and perfection of simple combinations of materials and colours. I think, now, between me and you, a friendship was born very strong!! Today for me, was a special day!! Thanks James ... Thanks Richard .... Thanks Candace. We'll see you soon.
Thank you carissima Clelia for starting all this... 
My thanks to Clelia Angelelli, Daniele Nicastrini, Massimo Fidale and Richard Rooney for all the uncredited photos used in this post. My apologies for not properly crediting all of them.