Monday, October 31, 2011

New Beginnings

Sometimes it’s difficult to see something that’s right in front of your face until someone points it out to you.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gli Azzurri

In with the new.  Today our second weekly installment of Umbria Food & Wine 2011 began with the arrival of Mary Ellen and Robert.  You might recognize their names.  They joined us on our 2010 Umbria Food & Wine tour.  Some people just don’t learn from their mistakes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ci Vediamo!

Yesterday marked the end of our 2011 Umbria Food & Wine Tour I, our Friday being a sort of super add on bonus day for our one remaining guest.  This morning – very early this morning – we said goodbye to our last guest and begin the turn around before shifting gears and welcoming our guests to 2011 Umbria Food & Wine II. 

La dolce vita in high gear.  Like a Ferrari.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Olive Italy

And so we come to the end of our 2011 Food and Wine Tour, having said goodbye a day early to some of our guests, but adding an extra day for others as compensation.  And we get ready to welcome tomorrow our guests for our 2011 Food and Wine II Tour, a second week of eating, drinking, chattering, laughing and smiling in English and Italian.  We’re looking forward to it.

But there is some unfinished business to take care of on week I.  There is still food to be tasted, smelled, studied, looked at and learned about.  There is still wine to be sniffed, swirled, squinted at, slurped and quaffed.  So yesterday we set off in search of olive oil and cheese.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rainy Days and Wednesdays

Wednesday is pork day on our Food and Wine itinerary, a day dedicated to driving to the far corner of Umbria to visit Norcia, the capital of pork butchery of Italy and the hometown of Saint Benedict, the patron saint of Europe.  Thursday is also hiking day in Castelluccio, the beautiful mountain valley town just beyond Norcia, whose vast lunar-like valley is blanketed with fields of lentils prized throughout Italy.

The itinerary says Wednesday is pork and hiking day.  But the weather says no.  A steady rain, which started the previous evening has thrown the proverbial spanner in the works.  We scramble to make new plans.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kitchens and Garages

To spend time with Salvatore Denaro is to step into a fantasy world.  His personality literally bends and reshapes reality to suit himself.  From the numerous times we have been fortunate to spend a day with Salvatore, we can say it suits us too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's Pardi Time

Seven o’clock rolls around pretty early here in Italy.

I am aware that in reality it comes right after six o’clock, just like back home, but it sure seems earlier.  Maybe it has something to do with the euro/dollar exchange rate or the English/metric conversion.  But it seems awfully early.

Maybe it has something to do with our daytime activities.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lions and Truffles and Lambs, Oh My!

My high school roommate’s father used to be fond of telling me (and presumably others) a certain joke.  He would start by asking, “William . . . have I ever told you the story of the lion and the lamb?”  Having heard the story on numerous occasions I would invariably reply, “why yes, Mr. Burton.  You have.”  “Good.  Let me tell it to you.”

The story goes like this.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Unchain My Heart, with Apologies to Ray Charles

When I was a kid in school there was a popular syllogism going around that said:
“God is love.
Love is blind.
Ray Charles is blind.
Therefore Ray Charles is God.” 

As we arrived at our villa in Cannara yesterday, after a day in Rome, my slightly jetlagged brain creakily came up with a new syllogism for our time in Italy:
“Umbria is called is the ‘green heart of Italy.’
Home is where the heart is.
Therefore Umbria is our home.”

I think to be completely accurate it should be “Umbria is our green home.”  Or green Umbria is our home.”  Or “Umbria is our home.  Green.”  I’ll keep working on it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Real. Comfortable. Italy.

How easy it is to return to Italy.  Like a comfortable pair of jeans, it seems slip on so effortlessly and fit like it was always part of you.  And as an added bonus, it doesn’t make your butt look to big.  Yet.

 We were meant to return.   Otherwise the travel gods wouldn’t have found us a cheap upgrade to business class.  They wouldn’t have made traffic to National Airport light and skies from Washington to Rome clear of (most) bumps.   They wouldn’t have had us arrive 45 minutes early so we would meet up with Mary Ellen and her son Dan, who we will host next week, at the baggage carousel at Fiumicino.  Those travel gods kindly unleashed a once in a generation deluge on Rome the day before we arrived, rather than upon our arrival.  A flash flood so great that a day later everyone was still marveling over images of vespa riders being swept away by walls of water.

Those travel gods were just toying with us as little play things when they refused to let our in-seat video systems to work, facing us with the prospect of 8 hours no Nemo, no Marli, of no Snape, MadEye Moody or Hermione.  And they seemed to laugh out loud when they rendered inoperable the tiny button to turn off our overhead lights, leaving a searing laser of light pointed right at our faces as we sought to get a little shuteye on our videoless flight.  But toying it was, as those muses of travel whispered into the flight attendant’s ear to take a blanket and tuck it into the ceiling air vents, crossing the lights and covering their daytime blast.  And toying they were when they reminded us that we had packed a DVD of Roman Holiday, inviting Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn to urge us eastward, saying “come in, the water’s fine” even as Rome’s floodwaters began to recede.

I would recommend a viewing of Roman Holiday (our first was yesterday on the fight over) to anyone planning to spend a few days in Rome.  Even with its dated 1950’s black and white take on Rome, it catches something eternal about the spirit of the Eternal City.  And watching Gregory and Audrey wobble on their Vespa down the Corso Vittorio Emanuelle will make anyone want to risk the insane traffic to relive that experience.  We’ll save that for another trip, as we have only one night here in Rome.  But it was clearly fortune shining on us as we dropped off Karen, one of our companions for the next week, at her hotel at Via Margutta, 56, just a few doors down from Joe Bradley’s (Peck’s) flat at Via Margutta, 51.

Many would suggest that a walking tour of the Vatican would not be the best way to challenge jet lag on one’s first day in Rome.  They wouldn’t know Professore Enrico Bruschini, doubtless Rome’s very best tourguide, its most knowledgeable art historian and most passionate booster of Rome.  We began our two week plus trip to Italy with not a two hour or three hour or four hour walking tour of Rome, but a full five hours on our feet, chasing the eternally young professore down the corridors of the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica, as he pointed out a tapestry here, a piece of breccia marble or porphyry there, and shared personal accounts of his cleaning the centuries of accumulated grime from the walls of the Sistine Chapel.  Enrico is every bit a part of the beating heart of Rome as is Gregory Peck or a Vespa ride.

And just below that beating heart is a yawning stomach.  It was fed early and often on our first day back.  First at a simple lunch at the Osteria alla Rampa, a simple but authentic trattoria in the shadow of the Spanish Steps.  And then at an anonymous Trastevere trattoria for a fabulous dinner of mostly raw seafood with our Roman friends Kay and Massimo, Clark and Raffaella and Frances and our guests for the week, Karen, Willia and John.  How our souls had been yearning for the experience of sitting around a table with friends, old and new, enjoying a great meal and even better company.  How our feet had been yearning for nearly four hours seated, a chance to recover from five hours racing.

Yes, Italy is like a pair of comfortable jeans.  So easy to slip on, so flattering, just so right.  And today, as we head to Umbria to begin the first of our two week long Umbria Food and Wine tours, I suspect we might just have to unbutton her top button.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thank You!

A big thank you to all of you who joined us on Sept. 24 to celebrate Bella Italia's anniversary bash.  It's been eight truly wonderful years of discovery and sharing with our customers. And it's been a memorable and rewarding year since we moved from Cupcake Alley (Bethesda Avenue) to our new location on Hampden Lane.  While the pedestrian traffic may be lighter we feel like we have found our home.

As with most anniversaries, this one gave us an opportunity to reflect on our journey over the past years. And I wanted to share a few thoughts about what it's like to own and operate a small business these days.  While politicians fight with each other just a few miles away about "job creators" and stimuli, it is clear to us that their machinations are barely relevant to our daily lives. No, we have learned -- as we have toiled to keep open the doors of a high end, narrow niche business and scraped pennies together to meet payroll to maintain the jobs of some terrific colleagues, all the while coping with a series of disruptive construction projects, a historic world financial crisis and a tepid recovery -- that what is important is not the macro, but the micro.  We can't control the cost of the Euro or even know if it will exist next year.  We can't control if people will shop more during the holidays than they did last year.  All we can control is what we do and love it with all of our heart.  And we do.

A happy result -- perhaps the most important result of all -- of our frequent trips to Italy over the past few years has been our discovery of what we have found, for us, is a far better way of life than the "American" life that preceded it.  In Italy we have experienced a modo di vivere that values relationships and connectedness first - connections with the natural world and selfless loving relationships with those around you - and then takes it as an article of faith that the material needs will take care of themselves.  We feel this spirit strongly in our adopted home near Assisi, it perhaps being a vestige of the Saint's presence there centuries ago.  But we see and feel it too in the faces and hearts of the Italians we have met across that lovely peninsula.

The past year has seen Suzy and me redouble our efforts at Bella Italia but even more so our commitment to what made us hatch this crazy idea nearly a decade ago.  A love for la dolce vita and all that it represents.  Some may think that we sell products.  We think we share treasures.  Treasures that hold inside them the spirit of a loving artist who wakes up every morning loving his work the same way his father and grandfather and grandfather's father did.  We think that those people and that way of life deserves to be supported.  We wake up every day, too, loving our work and thinking of who we are working for.

Small businesses like ours are fragile creatures.  We don't have marketing budgets, IT departments or corporate jets.  If you like what you see or what you've experienced at Bella Italia, it's likely due to the efforts of one of the small handful of us who do this daily. And what you told us last Saturday by celebrating our anniversary with us is that you do like what we do (even if some of you came only for the chance to win a week at the villa).

So if you do love the Bella experience like we do, you can help.  More than you can imagine.  Help us spread the word about Bella Italia.  When your friend says she is going to buy a wedding present at Nordstroms, let her know that a gift from Bella Italia will be more unique and thoughtful. Bring a friend or two (or three) by to meet us.  Think of us when you shop for the holidays.  Come with us on our Umbria Food and Wine tour or rent our villa in Umbria. Come to our book club, wine tastings or other special events.  Have your company send custom gift baskets to your clients.  Take a cooking class when Chef Simone visits in January.  Talk us up in the press.
Because as much as we believe in Bella Italia and la dolce vita we can't do it alone.  If you believe too, we welcome your support.

Looking forward to another fantastic year.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy