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Archive for June, 2009

Pila winery

The view from Cantina Goretti in Umbria.

When we travel, Robert and I inevitably ask each other: “could you live here?” at some point during the holiday. Typically, my response is an emphatic yes or no, although sometimes it’s more of a qualified ” yes, if…” answer. I could live here IF I got a job here, IF I could speak French, IF I was very wealthy, and so on.

In terms of Umbria, my response was: wouldn’t it be fantastic to live here! The vineyards, the cafes, the olive groves, the hillside towns. What’s not to love about the scenery? Plus, the food is magnificent, the wine is spectacular.  If I lived here, I would drive past gorgeous views like the one above every day. I could eat and drink like a real foodie.

Continuing on and really warming to my subject, I told Robert that I want to live near a local winery where I could bring in my cask and have it filled up at the pump, as the locals do at Goretti Winery (below). This place just happened to be our local winery during our holiday, so I could easily imagine myself becoming a regular there. In fact, I think I could get used to that Italian lifestyle pretty easily as I already tend to talk with my hands. That is, I could get used to it IF I could speak Italian. Maybe I need to work more on my Swedish first?

Fill 'er up with the house red, please.

Inside the Goretti winery: Fill 'er up with the house red, please.

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Roger, Nici and me lounging poolside.

Roger, Nici and me lounging poolside. Robert nicely acted as our photographer.

For two weeks, we got to stay at a real, honest-to-goodness Villa in Umbria. I felt like queen of the manor. (OK, I promise not to go on too much more about the trip to Italy. I know it’s not very Swedish lagom of me to keep talking about it.) The Villa Aureli is in Castel del Piano, just southwest of Perugia and for us sun-starved Stockholmers, the place was a paradise.

As the weather was not only sunny but also hot, we had to spend a lot of time sitting by the pool drinking white wine to cool off. We made ourselves stroll around the beautiful gardens as well as it seemed the right thing to do. Robert even did some nice sketches while Nici and I took photographs. And we had to sample the owners Limoncello since the lemons were grown right there in the gardens.

I am happy to say that we all survived the experience.  If only for a short time, it was good to imagine myself living the life of an Italian noblewoman. I think I could get used to it.

One of the many lemon trees in the garden.

One of the many lemon trees in the garden.

The back view of the gardens around the villa as well as the organerie.

The back view of the gardens around the villa as well as the orangery where all the lemon trees are stored for the winter.

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In Spello, we walked by this restaurant and could see from the street that it had a fantastic view. But we walked on as we had planned to go back to the Villa and cook. Happily, we changed our minds and enjoyed Prosecco and an amazing vista.

In Spello, we walked by this restaurant and could see from the street that it had a fantastic view. But we walked on as we had planned to go back to the Villa and cook dinner. Happily, we changed our minds as the view was too good to pass up – we enjoyed Prosecco and an amazing vista.

Some of the best times we had on our Italian trip were the result of either happy accidents or referrals.  In Florence, we ate at a place that we had been to several years ago. My friend Bryn’s brother is a chef and he had recommeded Trattoria La Casalingua to her. She in turn passed the tip on to me. We ate there again and found that the food is still fantastic, by the way.

In Montefalco, we went to a winery that had a huge tour group come in just after we arrived. We asked for a referral to another good winery. Feeling sorry for us, they very nicely recommended another fantastic winery called Antonelli. We had a fantastic tasting there and loved the wines so much that we bought several bottles. As we packed up our purchases, I asked for a dinner recommendation. The recommended spot was a tasting restaurant named L’Alchimista. Set in the beautiful center of the old town, the location and the food were amazing. Once again, we were all happy.

One of the many bands getting ready to perform in Spoletto.

One of the many bands getting ready to perform in Spoletto.

Spoleto is where the happy accidents came in. After arriving in this charming town that dates to the 4th century, we sat down to lunch and it immediately started raining. It was not just a drizzle. It was a downpour. So we waited. And we ate and drank until we could neither eat nor drink any more. Just as we were ready to give up on seeing this town, the sun came out. As did all of these musicans as a  choral and band festival with performers from all over Italy could finally happen. So we walked the streets of Spoletto with marching bands and saw an amazing choral performance in an old church where the group sang “Swing low, sweet chariot” in Italian. It was like it had all been planned just for us.

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Some of the wonderful local goods to be sampled on the island of Isola Maggiore.

Some of the wonderful local goods to be sampled on the island of Isola Maggiore.

I am just back from two glorious weeks in Italy. Two weeks in a place like Umbria is never enough. Especially when you are there with good friends. Especially when you are drinking fantastic wines such as the Sagrantino that is made with Umbrian grapes. Especially when you are sampling the local cuisine – the pecorino cheeeses and the cinghiale sausages, the olives and the limoncello. My mouth is watering just now even thinking about it.

Adding to the perfection, we stayed in a villa that is owned by a descendent of Dante and dates back to the 16th century in Castell del Piano, which is just south of Perugia. It was a perfect location for exploring Umbria from, but it was also a perfect location for just staying and relaxing in as the Villa Aureli had beautiful gardens around it. (Being the English lit geek that I am, I could not help but think that I was strolling the park at Pemberley with Jane Austen’s Darcy.)

The nearby towns all seemed to be scenically and strategically situated on top of hills, date back to Roman and Etruscan times and be thoroughly charming with cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes galore.  Mary was everywhere: the Virgin Mary, that is. At most every corner, at every home and in every square, I would run into a statue of Mary with flowers or a candle or a combination of both in front of her. Religion is front and center in Italy. It’s quite a contrast to the much more secular Sweden.

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When summer is as short as it is in Sweden, you tend to take it personally if it rains. It’s been raining off and on every day for the last week. Plus it’s chilly – just about 10 degrees c (50 F) right now. It’s hardly what you could call summer weather by any stretch of the imagination and Stockholmers are in despair. “Were those four sunny and warm days in May the only summer we will have,” my friends have been asking plaintively, wondering all the while if they can book a flight somewhere warm and sunny immediately. Even the newspapers are reporting on the lack of summer weather, going so far as to tell us that it is going to continue. Today I even read a story that said this weather is depressing and that psychological help might be needed! (Residents of Sweden are truly obsessed with the sunshine. It’s a scary weather geek attitude that I have developed as well.)

Two summers ago, we had a cool and gray July. As this is the month when the entire country takes a holiday, everyone was subjected to the dismal weather. My coworkers came back to the office quite angry, complaining that they had no summer whatsoever. I hope that the weather will improve this year. I don’t want to go through that again!

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You never know what you’ll see on Södermalm, the island in Stockholm where I live. It’s such a mix of old and new, fun and funky. On Sunday, I saw two small ponies in the little park on my street. They were giving children rides for a birthday party. Today, I saw an older couple dressed in the traditional woolen costumes of days gone by. And yesterday, I saw a naked neighbor sunning and stretching herself on her balcony. I’ve seen people walking their cats, parrots and pot-bellied pigs, and an old man cycling with his German shepherd in a huge basket on the front. It’s just this sort of unique diversity that I love about Söder.

Historically speaking, Söder was s rural, agricultural area until the 17th century. Then it became the home for the working class. Now it’s known as the red wine drinking, alternative culture, bohemian center of Stockholm. Whatever the label, I like the vibe.

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I love the summer light in Stockholm. I think I’ve said that before, no? The light this time of year gives me amazing amounts of energy and good vibes. There’s still light in the sky when I go to bed at midnight and it’s full-on light when the sun wakes me up at 3 am. I don’t care that the light wakes me up. As I said already, I love it. I can’t get enough of it. I love coming home at 10.30 at night when it’s still light. I love how the sunsets go on for hours, with the deep reds, pinks and purples growing ever deeper at 10, 10.30, 11 and so on. It’s mesmerizing to look out my windows at the water and to see how Lake Mälaren changes colors as the hour grows later.

But I am miserly with the light. It makes me anxious when the day is gray. Like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter, I bank the sunny days in my memory to save them for the dark days.  I don’t want to give the light up. But inevitably, I have to. In my part of the world, it’s just a summer romance after all.

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