And so 2011 Umbria Food and Wine II, the second installment of our annual food and grape binge in Umbria came to an end yesterday. And the second week was as intense, enjoyable and interesting as the first. And completely different.
Now we need a vacation.
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The final day saw us say our goodbyes to our guests – Mary Ellen and Robert, who were joining us on our tour for the second year in a row, and Curt and Priscilla, first timers from Washington, DC. After a week together, Mary Ellen’s words “we came together as strangers but leave as friends,” rang remarkably true. It is a good feeling to see these onetime strangers embrace when they say goodbye. We have even heard from our sources back home that two of last week’s guests, erstwhile strangers, now close friends, had lunch together this week in DC. Italy and the experiences our guests live in Umbria give us a shared vocabulary, a shared set of experiences that makes it easy to connect with one another. I think it is those common threads so prevalent in Italian culture -- love of food, connection with nature, pride in history and culture -- that make it so easy to connect in Italy.
But our final day, too, had us say our goodbyes to Umbria and our friends there, as we headed off for a few days in Sicily. In reality we had been saying our goodbyes for the past several days, as we got together with friends for one last time before leaving “the green heart of Italy.” Lodovico and Anna at their oliveto. Giuseppe Fioroni at dinner at the villa. Ernesto after dinner at Perbacco. Salvatore before he departed for a series of food lectures at the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley.
As la Fattoria del Gelso disappeared in our rearview mirror yesterday, the final hug and cheek kissing of Marco fading along with the view, we had one more stop before heading to Rome’s Fiumicino Aiport. A goodbye to Simone at his Bevagna restaurant, an opportunity to leave with him the gifts we had dragged across the Atlantic two and a half weeks earlier. At le Delizie del Borgo we gave him the box that contained the brown sugar, the baking powder and vanilla, the toll house chocolate chips, so he could make a batch of Lindsey’s chocolate chip cookies. As we exchanged hugs and thank yous to Simone, especially thanking him for taking care of our oldest son who has been apprenticing with him for the last couple of months, we could at least feel that our visits to Italy were not simply one way streets with us receiving all the benefit, effecting no change on the place we call our second home.
Next time you drop by le Delizie del Borgo be sure to ask Simone for one of Lindsey’s cookies.
* * *
We have landed in Sicily, a land as different from Umbria as Hawaii is from Oklahoma. Our nighttime arrival and hourlong drive from Catania to Caltagirone was met with rain and then a blanket of fog, rendering the mysterious landscape no more than a highway shoulder shrouded in black. But our first hours here made the effort of our trip – a two hour drive to Rome, a harried check in and mind numbingly slow security check, an hour long flight with an additional hour of taxiing on the runway in Rome and finally the dark, wet drive from Catania – worth while. Our hotel, the lovely B&B Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo (Three meters over the sky), is located on the town’s grand staircase, a hundreds of feet long stair mounting the main hill in the center of town, the front of each thirty foot wide riser decorated in painted ceramic tile that the town is famous for. This morning we will tour the town and get a good look at the stairs. Last night, however, they were simply a means of transit to get to the restaurant Coria, a top tier restaurant if there ever was one, and a place where the stark contrast to Umbria (seafood for dinner anyone?) could not be more apparent. We miss Umbria already. But if the next few days are anything like the first few hours here on Sicily, we can probably survive.
* * *
So how did we spend week II of our Food and Wine tour? Let me count the ways. But if we count and number the activities and experiences we shared together that second week, we should letter each of the first week’s activities. Because even though both weeks were dubbed Umbria Food & Wine Tours, and the focus the same, the richness of Umbria meant that we repeated virtually none of the activities from week to week. For those who wonder “what is there to do in Umbria” I would reply simply that we could have organized a F&W III and F&W IV and still not duplicated a day. Such is Umbria.
Dinner in Citta della Pieve at the Palazzo del Corgno
Watch a concert of Memphis Blues at the Rosso, Bianco e Blues Trasimeno Blues Festival
Visit the Festival of olio novello in Trevi
Tour the Olio Trevi cooperative frantoio with Irene, head of the consortium
Walking tour of Spoleto
Dinner at Perbacco
Walking tour of Montefalco
Lunch at l’Alchemista in Montefalco
Shopping for linens in Montefalco
Visit to the Cantina Signae in Bastardo and a wine tasting with the owner
Murder Mystery dinner in Bevagna to celebrate Halloween
A visit to nearby Spello and a visit to an olive oil tasting room
Picking olives at the Palermi family oliveto
Picnic lunch with the Palermis
Cooking dinner at the villa
Visit to Fabriano and a guided tour of the Museo della Carta e del Filigrano
A private visit to the Museum of Printing, to be opened next year
A private visit to the Piano Museum, a private collection to be opened next year
An introduction to the cuisine of Le Marche over lunch at the palace of the Marchese del Grillo
A private visit to the bicycle museum, a private collection
Dinner at Simone’s in Bevagna
Walking tour of Perugia
Lunch in Montefalco with the Pardi family, featuring fresh, seasonal game
A visit to the studio of Umbrian artist Giuseppe Fioroni
Dinner at the villa honoring Maestro Fioroni and his friends
Cooking class with Letizia at her B&B overlooking Assisi
A visit to the Geribi ceramics studio and shop in Deruta
Pizza night at the villa
* * *
After two weeks of frenetic eating and drinking, the torrid pace so as not to miss a single experience, we truly do need a vacation. That is why we have come here to Sicily for these few final days. If history is any guide at all, though, we will probably not sit for back a moment, fearing that we might miss something. But if we return home next week exhausted and spent, it will be a “good” exhaustion, the feeling you have after that last run down the slopes. The feeling that you have nothing left in the tank, that you left it all behind.
But we will be taking home a great deal. In our suitcases. Around our hips. And in our hearts.
Bill and Suzy