I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences in everyday living and those Big Philosophical Differences between my two countries. And I start writing about them and then I stop somewhere in the middle. I either get bored, or it seems too obvious, or I’m reacting to a terrible event, like the killing of children in an American school and I get depressed. So I’m going to punt. I said to myself that once I was mostly done with meetings and other people’s deadlines, that I would keep to one of my own, to keep that journalism thing going. And I let it slip. So here goes, one of many posts that step in for something that might have been meatier—but also may have been me whining about something.
That said, living in a place is different from being on vacation—even here in Central Italy. We don’t sit around in scenic cafes sipping Chianti all day, though I guess if I really put my mind to it, I could. But there are dishwashers to be unloaded and loaded, floors that need sweeping, and bills to pay. Especially that last bit. One of the joys of Italian life is that a lot of stuff comes up piecemeal: the real estate tax, the garbage tax, the various insurance policies, you get the idea. Thankfully, you can take care of most of that online.
So we’ve been getting the place into shape. We pretty much skipped over 2020, though I came here to turn lights on and clear cobwebs. Last year we were just happy to be here, so we didn’t really take care of stuff beyond what was necessary. This summer looks like it’s going to be a hot summer, and we’re not flush with Lotto winnings, but we have (courtesy of our prior thrift) a nice pool. I called the people who built it and who do the heavy lifting in opening and closing it, and soon two ragazzi (guys) show up and did their thing. We’re hoping that this year’s weather will cooperate. Last year an incessant wind blew sand into the pool every day from the Sahara, and the water kept evaporating because of that wind. We kept topping it up and the water never really warmed up.
One big part of our day as pensionati (retired people) is our morning walk. We try to get in at least 4.5-5 km every morning. That’s 2.75 to 3.2 miles. It doesn’t sound like much, but the terrain here makes it a little challenging, because we’re up in the mountains. The only flat walk is down by the river, and that doesn’t go very far. The upside is that our walks are ridiculously scenic. The Spartan Woman makes sure we do this at least five times a week; more typically it’s six days in a row until I rebel. She would’ve made a good drill sergeant. The gallery below shows how taking a walk around the block has a whole new meaning here; we were on the Sentiero Francescano della Pace (St. Frankie Peace Trail) and it’s hard to see here, but some of the climbs are near vertical. We have trekking poles.
But we are in Italy, after all, and there’s food at the end of the trail. Lots of good stuff, everywhere. The small local supermarket in town would be a dee-luxe food shoppe back in the U.S. Lots of good local cheeses, most of them pecorino (sheep’s milk) variants, along with some foreign cheeses; Italians like Emmentaler, or Swiss. Salumi, meats from neighboring Tuscany if you’re into that kind of thing, black truffles, terrific bubbly like Franciacorta (Prosecco’s posh rival, more like decent Champagne)…you get the idea. We do spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing meals. One of the advances of the past couple of decades is that inland Umbria has suddenly become a seafood lover’s paradise; we can get tiny clams called lupini, slighty bigger clams called vongole veraci, oysters, spiny lobster, mussels, branzino (sea bass) all about half the price it would be in New York.
The place also inspires the mad baker in The Spartan Woman. We got her a stand mixer to serve as the Italian cousin to her beloved Kitchen Aid, and she’ll prepare great focaccia or bread with very little prompting. Usually all it takes it running out of bread in the house and our reluctance to leave our mountaintop.
We do errands too. We’ve been in the house, off and on (and mainly off during Covid) for five years now. We needed a few pieces of furniture for storage or just to finish rooms off. But we didn’t want to break the banca. So we went off to Ikea, about 80 minutes away near the Adriatic port of Ancona. Forget any notions of romantic seacoast lunches; we ate at the cafeteria. Of course, Ikea adapted to the area; when you check out at the restaurant, the cashier asks if you want a post-prandial coffee. I did, and when I was done with my gravlax and veggie balls, I went up to the bar and had a good espresso made from organic coffee beans. What’s funny, though, is that in addition to the identical wares with funny Swedish names, were our fellow customers. For the most part they looked identical to the clientele in the Elizabeth, New Jersey Ikea, adjusting of course for the New York area’s racial and ethnic diversity.
It’s not all errands and drudgery. The other day we drove to the town of Gualdo Tadino up against the Apennines because of a planned power interruption. We walked around, looking at the often whimsical architecture of the place, stopped at a bar for coffee, window shopped—and then lunch. There’s a terrific restaurant outside—La Terrazza di San Guido—above the town, set in a pine forest, with a deck that has a panoramic view of the town and its surroundings. The food is really good, quite traditional but carefully prepared with good ingredients. We spent the princely sum of €49 We reckon the pasta alone would cost somewhere around that in New York. Talk about turning lemons into limoncello.