Sunday, August 27, 2017


We try to steer clear of the mal'occhio (the "evil eye" that causes bad things to happen). But the same week of our little bumper mishap, a close friend told us about his own "contretemps." That's a fancy French word for problems that can arise when one is entering a parking lot at the same time when someone is exiting, but when one of you has the sun in his eyes. 

One might say to oneself, as he did, "All I can really see right now is "niente," but what are the chances that anyone would approach during the second it will take me to cross this threshold?

Well, because our local Lidl grocery store is very popular at that hour, a quasi-invisible someone could indeed be close enough for anyone entering the lot to scrape two of her car doors. 

There was a witless eye-witness to this event. To clarify--the door-scraper's wife who had been following behind in another car and also had the sun in her eyes did not yet realize that her husband of 47 years was a door-scraper. All she saw was a red-headed lady jump out and begin speaking animatedly with her sociable, door-scraper husband. She naively thought, "Wow! He's just run into our beloved architect, Gabriella, whom neither had seen in far too long. 

Purtroppo--unfortunately--while it's true that this Lidl is THE place to bump into friends, that nice lady was not Gabriella. The wife figured that out when she saw the face of her husband who then had the distinct look of a guilty door-scraper.

She parked her own car carefully and went over to see what was unfolding. After some phone negotiations between the nice lady and her doctor husband who was busy repairing the bodies of his patients, many documents were exchanged, photos taken, and it was determined that there would be a rendez-vous at that very spot the next day. The nice lady proposed that they all go together in her vehicle to her family's honest auto body shop to find out the cost of the damage. This sounded reasonable. 

In the meantime, the door-scraper couple showed photos of the scraped car to Luca, their own honest auto-body expert. It took him about five seconds to write back that the repair would cost 400-500 euros. Ouch! Or as they say around here, "porca miseria!" 

That was hard to swallow, but at least they had an idea of what to expect: if the nice lady's honest repairer said something wildly different, the door-scraper couple planned to humbly suggest they go to Luca's for a second opinion.

They should, however, have had faith that the nice lady would have an equally nice, honest auto-body guy, and this was indeed the case. When he said "450 euros" and showed them why, they quickly paid, after which the three of them left together in the lady's soon-to-be-NEARLY good-as-new car. That "nearly" qualification had to be added because the nice lady's son had previously inflicted a $400 "oops!" on the car's other side. But the parents had already decided to live with that one. (It might've been more convenient for them had the door-scraper managed to scrape that other wounded door, but it's hard to plan these things.)

The truly Italian part of this story is that even under these unpropitious circumstances, a new friendship was born. The nice lady repeatedly lamented that she and they had had to meet in this way. She invited them to come over right then for coffee. And after she whipped out her IPhone to show them photos of her very original artistic creations, they realized that the coffee offer was just a pretext.  She confessed that she really wanted to give them an "omaggio"--a gift!--for having scraped her car! 

Only in Italy!


 The guilty door-scraper couple who is NOT us is going for a swim that they hope will function as a ritual cleansing!

(As the door-scraper himself said to his wife, "To tell that story in the third-person isn't going to fool anyone.")

Well, she tried.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017



Ivy-covered walls in the Italian countryside are picturesque, but not always as innocent as they look.

We thought it would be a good idea to hop into our 1999 Renault to take it for a spin. After all, the poor thing had been sitting there for far too long exercising its primary function as a fruit dryer. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that the windshield of this proud French vehicle is the linchpin of our efforts to manage all the fruit we produce. The method goes like this: put the fruit of the moment in a foil-covered IKEA roasting pan on a sunny Umbrian day, and you're good to go. Or rather, you will be going nowhere for a while, while that fruit caramelizes nicely. 

The red-lit "STOP OR THIS VEHICLE WILL EXPLODE!" did not deter my optimistic husband in the least. "This car is so old that it often says alarming stuff like that, but doesn't really mean it."

But I was not convinced. Especially after we got to the main so-called road, and I pointed out that the gas gauge was reading "empty." We live quite a few nasty bumps away from the nearest gas station. Then there was the little matter of this being the worst drought and heat wave in Italian memory, and J recalled that he had not checked the car's water level in the recent past. 

The prudent decision seemed to be to pull into the little road not far from our driveway--the one from which I never see any cars emerge--to turn around and return to home base to see if the car needed water. But just as J was turning the wheel to back out of this little road, a very LOUD CLUNK stopped us cold. When J got out to check the damage, he was not a happy man. I could tell from the expletives and frustrated gestures that I should just stay put and wait for my heart palpitations to settle down before asking any questions.

According to J, this was quite the conundrum. The parking light being ripped off was just the tip of the iceberg. The entire bumper that had held that light was still partially attached, askew, and dragging. In that state, that Renault might just as well have had a roasting pan full of drying figs, because it was definitely going nowhere. 

I was just congratulating ourselves that, having stopped on this non-trafficked spot, at least we were not blocking the main road, when a car appeared from the other direction. That car was occupied by a cute dog and his contadino master na├»vely hoping to get home for lunch. 

By that time, I had called our mechanic whose garage is some 20 minutes away, to see about a tow. But as every self-respecting Italian knows, one should never have a disaster around August 15, because that's the Ferragosto holiday when everyone flies the coop. We had chosen to take our ride on August 14, but that clearly did not give a wide enough berth to this special holiday. 

A quick call to our best friend, Farmer Galli, for whom every day is a workday, found him in the middle of an uninterruptible job in the field. When his sweet wife tracked him down, he said he could be with us in an "oretta"--about an hour. 

All, however, was not lost, because the guy in the car in front of us was heading our way, and he did not have a gun. Rather, like any self-respecting farmer, he had a car full of tools, and the genius for solving problems like ours. He even laughed when I said how pleased I was that we were stopped on a road where no one passes. "But," he replied, "I come here twice a day to work on my fields." 

Then he swung into action. He and J figured out how to get us moving, and with minimal further damage to the car. What saved the day? Pliers, a wire cutter, and some wire (which I've noticed is a key element of a farmer's arsenal). Of course without contadino know-how, all the tools in the world would not have helped. 

As it was, we were lucky to make a new friend who was willing to go out of his way to help us get out of his way. 

I found out that his name is Antonio. But maybe his middle name is Leonardo? Given the jams we get into, we are fortunate that on our traffic patterns, genius is not in short supply. Nor is kindness.



Saturday, July 15, 2017


This is an embarrassed Donatella trying to get back on her horse. Could it be that a year has gone by without postings? How is this possible?

The short answer is that Donatella's academic alter ego was writing a book, retired from her beloved university posts of 33 years, and downsized after 35 years from her beautiful home. It has been a year filled with transitions, and you know how much Donatella loves those. But it's time to try to catch up.

There has certainly been no lack of misadventures to record. After all, this IS the Umbrian countryside where the returning homeowner is likely to encounter power outages, droughts, busted irrigation systems and garbage disposals and pool pumps, and riding mowers that have gone on the fritz. And that doesn't even include the espresso coffeemaker that gives Donatella's husband reason to live.

To resolve each problem requires a certain energy and patience, but the silver lining can be a good story and the cementing (or re-cementing) of a relationship with the lovely people who generously help us.

To add to the chaos of the settling-in process after a 4.5-month absence, why not order a swing set? The grandkids will soon be coming for their summer visit, and this should be a great surprise for them. Unfortunately, to get such an item delivered here can entail a few surprises of its own. I offer as evidence the following.

Below you can see the size of the truck carrying the new swing set that had to make its way down our terrible road.


When the driver called to say he was at the Casa di Riposo (Old Folks' Home) and could we meet him there, we thought it was gonna be a piece of torta. "That's just a few minutes from our house!" I told him excitedly.

When he asked on the phone how bad the road was, I kind of waffled and felt my nose getting longer as I said, "Well, we regularly get gas deliveries from a big truck that comes down that road." He said his truck was probably bigger than the gas truck. As it turned out, he was right to be suspicious.

When we got to our local Old Folks' Home we found a giant truck there alongside a guy bulldozing earth that he was depositing into it. Oops! With no swing sets anywhere in evidence, we realized that this was not our truck.

Then I remembered that our little town of Castel Giorgio is Old Folks' Home "central": there are at least 4 or 5 of them scattered around the town.

When we called the driver again to ask where the heck he was, he was starting to get impatient on this 94-degree day, with lunchtime approaching. Finally we sort of realized where he was, and thanks to Karen on the GPS, we got ourselves there. I went up to introduce myself to the driver and apologize profusely for all the confusion. When I asked him his name he said proudly, "Leonardo, as in Leonardo Da Vinci." I then introduced him to my husband, James Bond, after which we seemed to be starting off on a better track. That, of course, was before he saw the so-called road.

There were some tense moments during the journey itself, including meeting, coming from the other direction, a hysterical woman (who could have been me) who had to back up to let us pass. Leonardo hopped out of his truck to keep her from falling off the cliff, and we were temporarily back in business.

But that was before we encountered one hairpin turn just short of our driveway that looked like a deal breaker. Leonardo was not happy at all. He again hopped out, threw his hands up in the air, and proclaimed that there was no way he was going to be able to move anywhere ever again.

Because we've lived in Italy for nearly 10 years now, we recognize this as just the usual phase when all looks lost. The trick is to just wait it out. Sure enough, with a little guidance and encouragement from cool Mr. Bond, Leonardo managed to maneuver himself back on the road in the direction of our place.

By then, he wasn't trusting anything we said about how easy the rest would be. He stopped a few yards back from our gate, and hopped out again while gesticulating wildly in the direction of the overhead trees.

It was unclear if he would be willing to go any further. But trees can bend, and so did he.

The topper was when he finally backed up to our door and opened the back of the gigantic truck. There in one corner were the components of our swing set. The rest of the space was completely empty! Why they ever sent a behemoth that size with a load that small to middle-of-nowhere Italy is anybody's guess.

We offered Leonardo some water and our sincere thanks, but not before complimenting him for taking after his namesake by being a true genius.

These other photos are of our entrance driveway on which my tireless brother and sister-in-law, Jack The Wack and Susan, did so much work last summer. It had grown back with a vengeance, but was whacked into submission this morning by Francesco and Ricardo, our two new garden helpers. Even with their power tools, it was a big job that we are accustomed to doing ourselves with small hand tools. But it is good to see how the pros do it, and we will now try to follow their model.
The next adventure: assembling and installing the play set. Fortunately for us, another genius, Serghei from Moldova, will be coming to help with that. He has two kids who we hope will get to swing here, too. Who ever said that to be a swinger was going to be easy?


This is the sequel to "Geniuses to the rescue during this day of drama!")

It's lunchtime, and Leonardo was really happy to see the back of us!

(We reassured him that the other route outa here wasn't half as bad, and when we took it to town later in the day, we were relieved not to find him stuck anywhere. There were, however, plenty of downed branches along the way. Like his namesake, Leonardo had left his mark.)


As you can see, there's no attachment here. Bummer! I tried to include an 11-second video to illustrate this post, but supposedly it's too big to send. No make-o sense-o. But then again, technology never makes sense to me. By the way, this is being written on a brand new computer. While an improvement like that would bring joy to most people, it merely strikes terror in the heart of a techno-dunce like yours truly. But fortunately, my husband who understands these things is within screaming distance.   

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Everything was unusually calm and well organized at the airport. WHAT? Where was all the chaos that always tells us we're back in our adopted country?

Instead of having to run around like a nut in order to find a porter with a cart big enough to hold our dog's crate (which happens to be larger than some Paris apartments), we stumbled on a cute guy named Luigi who said he'd be back for us once our luggage and dog arrived.

The typical situation is that our dog Murray gets unloaded first and is plopped down in front of the "large and irregular baggage" department. It's usually no problem to find Murray because once he hears our voices, he starts barking very loudly, conveying the internationally comprehensible message, "GET ME OUT OF HERE!"

This time, before we knew it, the bags had all arrived, and lovely Luigi brought Murray to us, whisking our entire load to where our friend, Roy, was waiting to pick us up with our car. Could it be that we could get home without any misadventures?

Not so fast.... All was suspiciously copacetic during most of the hour-and-a-half ride to Orvieto. It felt like summer already, as we encountered our local shepherd (still bald and naked as ever from the waist up behind the wheel of the tiny car he uses to herd his sheep. I’ve often wondered if he’s wearing any pants, and have yet to find out.) But 20 minutes from our destination, our 2002 Honda CRV started bucking like a bronco.

This was familiar to us, since it had happened before and had supposedly been fixed. Hmm... Would we be able to make it home, the road to which is, under the best of circumstances, full of challenges? Roy remained unflappable, and we somehow managed to get there. Phew! But we're not out of the woods, yet. This car needs a doctor. We know whom to call--it's just that his repair shop is a bumpy 20-minute ride away.

We're naively thinking that by using our "reserve" car, the 1999 Renault--the one whose specialty is to dry fruit on its windshield--we might be able to drive to the mechanic in two cars, and leave the bucking bronco there.

But when my handy husband opens the Renault's hood, he gets showered with many of the acorns stored there over the past four months by some enterprising wildlife. Let's not even mention the nests of the wasps that enjoy setting up housekeeping inside the car's door hinges. We call our mechanic to let him know we're going to try to make it to his place in both of these over-the-hill vehicles, one of which has been driven nowhere for the past four months. Ready?

My husband asks which of these cars I, the least confident driver I know, wants to use for the twenty-minute jaunt ahead. The potentially bucking bronco? Or the untested, manual transmission Renault? It was a tough call, but I ended up going for the bronco, since that was the more familiar car. As it turned out, that was the right decision.

The plan was to follow behind my husband and flash my lights or honk if the Honda started bucking. All had been going fine with me when I saw J signal, stop and pull over in front of one of the few houses along our remote road--the very winery where we had stopped to deal with a similar problem before.

Oops! In our worry about the bucking Honda, J had forgotten to check the water level in the Renault. The temperature light going on and the flashing, red STOP RIGHT NOW OR THIS CAR WILL EXPLODE alerted him to his error.

He raised the hood, got clunked on the head by a few hundred more acorns, and saw the evidence. At this point, a car coming from the other direction stopped to see what we wacky non-natives were up to now. When I explained about the water problem, they were amused, asking questions in a dialect even more incomprehensible than what we’re used to. Realizing that we were hopeless, they joined J under the hood, pointed to the empty water reservoir, gesticulated wildly while exclaiming something like “aha!”,and kindly offered to bring us a few bottles of water from their place just up the road.

Why does this man look so stunned? Maybe because when he raised the hood, he got whacked by a shower of acorns?
Yes, indeed! There's no water to be found in here. Now what?

There may not have been any water, but there were definitely plenty of acorns.

When they invent a car that will run on acorns, we could be all set!

This is the beauty of life in rural Italy: we all became fast friends, and discovered we knew some of the same people, including P, the owner of the vineyard in front of which we had stopped. Just then, P came out of his house smiling, perhaps thinking, "Oh, it's YOU again??" (When this happened a previous time, he had kindly escorted J and the problem car all the way into town to be sure he'd make it there. Further, the nice father and son who stopped to help us this time were well known to P: they're the ones who had sold him the property where he now has his winery.)

So far, Providence seems to be looking out for us--not only did we make it to the mechanic's without further misadventures, but the names of our new father-and-son guardian angels are "Angelo Senior" and “Angelo Junior.” Viva Italia!