Monday, August 19, 2013

11 Things I Love About My Village in Umbria

I’ll admit it—I've been a bit down on Italy lately. I’m sure that’s attributable to a number of things, first and foremost being the loss of both my parents this year. Despite having a husband, child, house, in-laws and pets here, the deaths of my parents has left me feeling like I somehow don’t have a base. That, combined with the grueling heat of an Italian summer, my continued frustration with obtaining my Italian driver’s license and a host of other minor annoyances has left me, frankly, with very little positive to say about my adopted homeland.

But rather than write a blog post recounting all the things I don’t like about living in Italy, I challenged myself to come up with a bunch of things that I love about living in Italy, particularly in my little corner of Italy. As it turns out, if one looks through the right shade of glasses, it’s not so hard to find the good things about living here. (Cue collective awws, please.)

So in no particular order, here are some of my favorite things—at the moment, at least—about life in my little village in Umbria.

1.       Summer visitors. Allerona is a small, sleepy town where about half the houses stand empty most of the year. But that all changes in July and August, when those homeowners come for their summer sojourns. There are more of them this year, no doubt because of Italy’s economic crisis. Allerona may not seem like much of a vacation in the high heat of August, but compared to Rome, it’s downright Arctic at our elevation. All those out-of-towners fill the bar and the piazzas and they patronize our few stores and they just liven up the place. I’m sorry to see them go.
Mario the cat is among our esteemed summer guests.
Photo by Frank Clemente
All them outtatowners keep the bar jumping.

2.       The stand. On summer weekends, Allerona’s volunteer cultural group, the pro loco, opens its “gastronomic stand” adjacent to our community tennis court and soccer field. While “gastronomic” might be a bit of an overstatement, the stand is a fun place to eat dinner and socialize with friends. There are kids and dogs and balls for Naomi to play with, and someone is always willing to entertain her for a while so Paolo and I can eat.
The stand is run by volunteers,
including Paolo's sister, Anarita.

3.       The bar. While I like bars in general, I have a special affection for our Bar Antico Borgo, and I finally found the place where everybody knows my name! Whether we go for prosecco or gelato (and let’s face it, it’s usually prosecco), there’s always someone we can chat with and—are you sensing a theme here—always someone wanting to play with Naomi. When we’re at the bar and someone asks me where my kid is, my favorite response is “I don’t know.” But she’s never far away, and she’s always in good hands. And did I mention that a prosecco costs just 1.60?
Someone's watching out for her, right?
Future bartender in training

4.       The festas. Summertime in particular is the season for several nice parties in Allerona. We recently ate dinner with about 150 of our closest friends at the piazza dalla chiesa, on an evening so blessedly cool we needed long sleeves. Even better than that, the pro loco, along with our summer theatre program, organized a fairy tale festival for the little ones, which featured costumed performers acting out classic fables in the candlelit alleys and little piazzas all over town. Maybe I’m just getting old and sentimental, but it was a sweet, magical event.
At dinner in our ancient piazza.
Photo by Sonia Catania Volpi
Portrait of the artist as a young woman
 - Naomi at a children's festa

5.       My mother-in-law’s orto. Just about everyone with a square meter of free land plants an orto, or vegetable garden, in the spring and reaps the bounty come summertime. So instead of searching in vain for organic produce in the grocery store, I can just go pick my own chemical-free tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, zucchini (OMG do we have zucchini), green beans and fresh herbs in Franca’s backyard. Our uncle brings us huge bunches of red grapes, and we know where all the good plum trees and blackberry bushes are. I will admit though, I’m running out of ideas for how to prepare zucchini.
Better than Whole Foods


Fresh-picked plums from a secret tree

6.       Lake Bolsena. Sure, in Florida I had the Gulf of Mexico, which wasn’t too shabby. But here, just a half hour or so away, I’ve got Lake Bolsena, one of the cleanest, deepest lakes in Europe. When I’m standing in neck deep water I can see my toes very clearly, and it’s nice to know I’m swimming in the same water in which the Etruscans used to bathe. They probably peed in it too, but that’s okay; I’m happy to dive in anyway, as is Naomi. Check out Susan Morgan’s recent blog post, which describes all sorts of things to love about Bolsena.
Descendants of the Etruscans take a dip.
Swimming and sunning make a girl thirsty!

Under the Etruscan moon...

7.   This guy.

8. I never need look far for a babysitter. 

9. Sometimes, this is my view. 

10. Other times it's this.

11. And best of all, it's this. 
Photo courtesy of Lorraine Ladish

So, there you have it, a short and by no means complete list of the things I love about living in our village, my village. As long as it stays longer than the list of things I don’t like about living in Italy, then I’m staying put.