Thursday 30 May 2013

GLASS BEADS FROM ANCIENT ROME Discovered In An Ancient Mound Tomb in Japan

Photo courtesy of Kyoto Shimbun
Okay, this has nothing to do with the Sabina, but I found this really interesting. Some of you may know that I lived and studied in Japan for about two and a half years in a small town called Okayama in the late 70s and early 80s. A friend of mine from Rome sent me a very interesting article on Facebook today about a recent archeological discovery in Japan.

Three multi-layered gold flecked glass beads from Imperial Rome were found in a mound tomb 古墳 near one of Japan's ancient capitals, Nagaoka-Kyo 長岡京, near Kyoto. The name of the mound tomb is Utusukushi Tomb No. 1. 宇津久志1号墳, which you can see being excavated in this photo below.

Image courtesy of
According to the articles, the beads likely date from the 1st to 4th century AD and somehow were traded  and travelled 10,000 kilometers to Japan. The tomb itself dates from the mid fifth century.

I am adding links to two articles in English, one in Italian, and two in Japanese for those of you who are interested.




Tuesday 28 May 2013


A year has passed since our last visit to the Sabina. In 2012 Richard and I and our friend Candace decided to spend a full month in Italy basing ourselves in the hilltown of Casperia in the Province of Rieti which is about and hour and a half from Rome.
Aerial view of Casperia showing the Porta Rieti

Of course there is so much to see in Italy, but rather than spreading ourselves thin cramming in twenty cities in thirty days, we decided to go deep and see what it was like to spend an entire month in one place... There was no question that this was the right thing to do... Our decision paid us back in amazing rewards, new friendships, and rich experiences we could never have imagined. 

Photo of our April 30, 2012 lunch party at Friends Cafe, April 30, 2012 courtesy of Massimo Fidale
So here I am again on a plane with Candace heading to Rome. Richard left two weeks ahead of me. He and his tap shoes have been exploring Firenze and Perugia, the capital of Umbria, before he headed down to Casperia and Il Sogno to get things ready for my arrival. 

Many of you know that Richard is an avid tap dancer--something he has discovered late in life--and that he writes a blog on his tap dancing journey called The Happy Hoofer

Richard plans to take pictures of his tap shoes visiting the sites in all the places he visits during his tour for a future blog posting. So far he has sent pictures of his tap shoes in a number of places in Florence and Perugia. Early on in the trip he sent me this photo of his shoes taking in the view of the ancient Forum Boarum and Santa Maria in Cosmedin Church, the home of the famous Bocca della Verità, from the window of his hotel room in Rome. Candace has her shoes off and on the seat beside her. They are iridescent in the reading lights of the darkened cabin and I think they are beautiful... "If Richard can take photos of shoes, why can't we?" I think. 

Candace's beautiful shoes resting on the trans-Atlantic flight from Toronto to Munich
We arrive in Munich, elated but confused. Somehow in our fatigue and jetlag (Candace has been flying back and forth from Europe to drop off Richard then pick me up, and I have been working long and hard hours teaching English to three different Japanese ESL groups and departed Canada with Candace on a midnight flight to Toronto on the last day of one of the programmes) we have gotten lost in the Munich Terminal and we are losing precious time for our connecting flight to Rome. We get a little panicked, then as usual Candace finds her bearings and guides us through the maze of bureaucracy and architecture to our waiting gate and our Lufthanza flight to Roma.

I have left my English world behind... On the flight from Toronto to Munich I hear French and German mix with English. Arriving in Munich all linguistic familiarity and afinity ceases. I speak five languages in varying degrees of proficiency but German is not one of them... Ich spreche kein Deutsch... and I can only understand a few words: ausgang, eingang, über, unter, bitte, danke, saft and kartoffeln. My vocabulary is laughable... Thankfully most Europeans, unlike most North Americans, speak at least three and sometimes more languages, and one of them is usually English...

At the gate for our flight to Rome about a good percentage of the waiting crowd are Italian and finally, the language I have been dying to hear and speak is audible here and there around me... Just a few hours more and I will be home.

By the time Candace and I board the flight we are exhausted. I doze for the first half of the flight but then rouse myself to catch my first glimpse of Italy through the sliver of window to my left. Are those the Alps or the Appenines? Where are we? How much longer do we have.

As time passes I notice not only mountains but some flatlands and some lakes as well. Is that Lake Bolsena or Lago di Bracciano? My grasp of the geography of the Etruscan side of the Tiber is tenuous at best... but if that river down there is the Tiber... 

Monte Terminillo photographed from Monte Guadagnolo courtesy of Georgio Clemente
All of a sudden I see a snow covered mountain that I recognize... Monte Terminillo, the highest peak in the province of Rieti... and if that's Terminillo... WE ARE FLYING OVER THE SABINA!!!

I crane my neck to see the lush green countryside west of the mountain and see stretches of Saint Frances' sacred valley, the Valle di Rieti. As the airplane descends enroute to Rome I think I recognise Fara in Sabina and Monte Soratte.  I can feel my pulse racing... We are almost there...

We touch down at Leonardo da Vinci Airport. Candace, who has flown all the way to Vancouver from Europe to take me to Rome on a pass must turn around and immediately fly back to Canada. She has a number of work flights to do and some exams to write before she can come back to join us in Casperia.  I am in awe of her stamina and even more of the depth of her friendship.

With a kiss and a hug we make our farewells. I head out into the terminal to find the train to Poggio Mirteto while Candace disappears into the milling crowds heading toward her flight...  

Ma, sono veramente arrivato. I've really arrived! Sono tornato in Italia... a Roma... I am back in Italy... in Rome... e fra poco saro' nella mia Sabina. and soon I will be in my Sabina.

I find the train station easily. I buy an 11 Euro ticket for Poggio Mirteto Scalo at a wicket near the platform, then head out onto the binario to wait.

I take out my Wind cellphone which I charged in Vancouver before my departure and press the button to turn it on. The sound of the familiar signature chime of four ascending notes makes me smile... There are a few euros credit left on the phone from last year. Time to see if I can still make calls...

In turn I phone three friends: Alessandra in Rome, Clelia in Tuscania, and Massimo in nearby Fiumicino. I am exhausted from the flight and my Italian is rusty, but no one seems to mind. It is so great to hear their voices. I tell them I have arrived safely and that I look forward to seeing them as soon as possible. Then I try Richard.  

He sounds so relaxed. He says he has the house all prepared and that there will be a Negroni waiting for me at Friends. I can't wait!   

The train from the airport to Poggio Mirteto Station departs every half hour on the Orte Line and takes 90 minutes. The next available train for Poggio Mirteto will depart at 2:28 getting me to Poggio Mirteto Scalo around four. 

A graffitti covered train glides magestically into Fiumicino station. I gather my bags and climb board for this second last leg of my journey to Casperia... 90 minutes of train travel will be followed by one last leg of 20 minutes on a bus.

I find a seat on the right hand side of the train. The further north I get, this side of the train will afford me my first views of the Sabine hill. It is a beautiful sunny day in Italy. The train is not that crowded, and slowly begins to empty out as we pass through Rome. We pass through Roma Trastevere where I bought my Wind cell phone a year ago, then slowly glide on to Roma Ostiense with its Mussolini era station building beside the ancient pyramid tomb of Cestius and the nearby Protestant cemetery. 

The Cimitero Acattolico di Roma is a popular tourist attraction. The remains of poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley and those of Danish sculptor Hendrik Christian Andersen are buried her among those of many other illuminaries.

I haven't made it there for a visit there yet but one day...

My train rumbles on. Across from me sit a middle-aged Italian couple seemingly recently returned from a romantic holiday in the Caribbean. We strike up a conversation that lasts until they get off at Monte Rotondo. I am now only a few stations away from my destination. To my right climb the umbrella pine crowned hills of the Sabina while on my left sometimes visible through the scrim of trees that rim its banks meander the silver waters of the Tiber.
We pass through the station for Fara in Sabina. Less than a half hour drive northeast from the station in an exquisite green valley oasis lies the Carolingian era Abbazia di Farfa, one of medieval era Italy's most powerful abbeys. But I am not thinking so much of the beautiful church as I am of the amazing bed linens we hope to buy at the artisanal textile shop on the Abbey's grounds... 
Photo courtesy of Laboratorio Artigiano Tessile di Scipioni Gustavo website
...that, and another excellent meal at the Trattoria da Lupi across the street.
My mind floods with the memories of our time in the Sabina in 2012. Every hill, every twist of the Tiber has a memory of breathtaking views, time spent with amazing friends, or an unforgettable meal. 

As the train slows down and glides into Poggio Mirteto Scalo, I crane my neck for a glimpse of Ecofattorie Sabine where we bought our organic cheese, sausages, and other ingredients for so many delicious meals. I have half a mind to drag my bags the 400 metres or so from the train station to the shop and stock up, but I am expecting that the bus to Casperia will be arriving soon and that the less things I have to carry, the better.

The first thing that hits you when you get off the train in the Sabina is the wood fire smoke-perfumed air. It is olive pruning season and the farmers in the surrounding hills gather the olive trimmings together in piles and burn them for weeks on end. Then there is also the smell of kitchen fires. Here in the Sabina most of the bread and even much of the cakes and pastry people eat are baked in wood fired ovens. My head reels, as much with the myriad of memories this smell brings as from the smoke itself. I close my eyes for a moment and take in breath after deep breath, feeling the fatigue of my long journey slip away. I am home... well almost.

The Poggio Mirteto Station, which looks like it is perpetually undergoing renovation, is largely empty. 

It being Sunday, the shops across the street are mostly closed and shuttered, but the Cedro del Libano Bar is open. 

I walk towards the third bus stop to wait for the pullman to Casperia when my phone rings. It is Richard. 

He says that Stefano and Nicoleta were worried that there might not be a bus because it was Sunday and that he and Nicoleta's mother Mara would be picking me up by car in about 10 minutes.  Perfetto!

I grab my bags and walk back toward the station to where the carpark is and wait. The minutes tick by. A number of cars drive up to pick up or drop off other people who head into the bar for a coffee. Then a bus bound for Casperia also pulls in, soon  followed by Richard and Mara in Mara's red car. 

The 20 minute journey from Poggio Mirteto to Casperia is a blur. The salutary effects of the woodsmoke in the Sabine Hill air gave way to a heady mix of excitement, fatique and sensory overload. I rode up front with Mara, Nicoleta's mother, and Richard rode in the back.

What I do remember thinking was that Nicoleta's mother was a real dear to come all the way from Casperia to pick me up and how grateful I was to be on the final leg of my journey in a car travelling over beloved and very familiar roads. 

As Mara's car took us up and out of the Tiber valley a breathtaking view of the hilltown-studded Colli Sabini appeared on our right. Mara very graciously slowed down the car to allow me to take a picture of far off Catino with its 1200 year-old pentagonal tower. So many memories. Ciao Giorgio! 

Cantalupo courtesy of Filippo Simonetti
A few more minutes down the road and up loomed Cantalupo in all its glory. Despite its proximity to Casperia, we had never gotten around to a visit during our past stays and I hoped we could rectify that this time around.

I can only describe the experience of anticipation on the drive to Casperia from Poggio Mirteto like the feeling felt waiting for an unveiling... 

Roccantica, courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Though other hill towns reveal themselves from far off, you don't get to see Casperia until you are almost upon her. As the road twists and turns she hides herself like a tease behind the wooded slopes of Montefiolo and the spur of rock upon which the comune's picturesque cemetery perches. Then, just as the car rounds a curve along the base of the cemetery hill, she appears.



Mara manoeuvred her car through the bustling traffic circle, past Santa Maria in Assunta church, Bar Petrocchi and the gas station on the right, and our beloved little alimentari and handy Bank of Etruria on our left, driving us right up to the Porta Romana gate. Finally, we have arrived! 

Bags in hand, we thanked and bade a quick farewell to Mara, who drove off on an errand...

I paused for a moment just inside the Porta Romana to read the posters on the town bulletin board, then turned and left the 21st century with its cars and technology behind into the Middle Ages... Well not quite...

There are about twenty or so broad cobbled steps leading up from the Porta Romana to Piazza Umberto I and a second gate that leads into the heart of the medieval borgo. For centuries these steps provided easy access to donkeys and horses that conveyed goods and people in and out of the hilltown. Here and there, stuck into the outside walls of the stone houses of the borgo you can still see examples of the cast iron rings the people of Aspra used to tether these animals. 

Richard took my red carry-on suitcase and sprang up the stairs. I grabbed my remaining two bags and followed him at a slower pace, dying to see what and who waited at the top of the stairs, and at the same time savouring every step. ...and then, I arrive at the top of the stairs and see Friends Cafe and Nicoleta...


And there was our favourite table waiting for us...

 Boh, the Friends' mascot cat says it's time for that Negroni!

I am so tired, but so very happy. The heady mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth is my favourite drink on the entire planet...  and no one knows how to make them like Nicoleta does. (Sorry Stefano) :)

It's the perfect end to my first day back in the Sabina. I am back at Friends Cafe with dear friends, my favourite drink, and a spectacular Sabine sunset to top it all off.

But about 200 steps remain between me and Il Sogno, our home away from home while we are here in the Sabina. My first Negroni finished, I reluctantly pull myself away from the table, gather my belongings and trudge up the hill.

At the house, Richard has a fire waiting. I unpack, change my clothes and have a rest for a while... But I am hungry all of a sudden, and though there is food in the house, we know we will be heading down the hill again soon.

The best bruschette in all the world await us back at Friends.

By the time we make it back down the hill to Friends, it is dark and rather cold out. Nicoleta shivers and complains about the cold... She recommends that we eat inside, but we are crazy Canadians with scarves and down jackets. We dit down at our favourite table and order bruschette drizzled with the most delicious Sabina D.O.P. olive oil from our friend Andrea's parent's olive groves in Castelnuovo di Farfa. Any oil that the toasted bread does not absorb I transfer from plate to greedy mouth with my finger. It is too delicious to waste even a drop. 

For our main course we have Stefano's signature stringozzi al ragu'. It is a perfect warming dish on a cold night like this. The delicious food, the bottle of Pecorino and the jet lag make me drowsy. I am having such a wonderful time talking to Stefano and Nicoleta as we eat, but I realize that I really am tired and that it is time to head back up the hill to bed... Tomorrow is another day. 

We kiss Stefano and Nicoleta good night and carfefully wend our way up the cobbled stairs back up the hill to home and to bed.

I can't remember this myself but the photo says it all. Apparently I was so tired when I got back home that I sat down in the kitchen and fell asleep with my head on the counter...  Oh well...

Tomorrow, another adventure begins...




Thursday 23 May 2013

The “Grande Transumanza" is taking place in the Sabina! June 2 to June 8, 2013

This image courtesy of

On June 2, two hundred of Manlio Fani’s beautiful horses will begin to pass through thirteen municipalities of the Sabina to reach by the following Saturday their summer pastures on Mount Terminillo. They will depart from Portovecchio of Ponzano and pass through the territories of Stimigliano, Tarano, Torri, Vacone, Montasola, Cottanello, Contigliano, Morro, Rivodutri, Cantalice, Rieti and Micigliano. On June 2, the day of departure, there will be the traditional opening party and from that day will begin the parade of horses for a whole week, crossing rivers and streams. It is an arduous journey and people in all municipalities involved must prepare for the transition, because you often have to find alternative travel routes.

This image courtesy of
In case you are interested in photographing this epic annual event we will try to direct you to some observation points

For now we can say that on June 2 the transhumance will pass nearby Vecchio Forno, the bridge area of Aja and will head to the medieval Sanctuary of Vescovio where they will stop for lunch around 13:00. Then the path continues along paths in the hills and mountains arriving the following day in Montasola. Happy photographing!

For more information on Manlio Fani and his beautiful horses, please check out this link.

For a small taste of what this looks like, check out this Youtube Video.