Saturday, October 28, 2006


No, not snow flurries, though the night-time temperatures have signaled that fall has arrived in le Marche. Leaves are changing color into brilliant yellows and reds in the nearby mountains but day-time temps are still pleasantly warm (thought we did have a few days of raining chill in Umbria and here in Ascoli). What we've been experiencing instead is quite a flurry of activity.

My two cousins, previously unknown to me, arrived a couple weeks ago for a trip south into the wilds of Basilicata in search of our family ties and heritage. We had an incredible, almost unbelievable, trip that I'll detail further later. We had a wonderful time and before the week was up I felt I'd known them all my life instead of having only met them recently. A wonderful experience! We also shared a beautiful villa overlooking the Gulf of Salerno that we didn't want to leave.

The day we departed from Agropoli, my sister and uncle arrived in Rome and we high-tailed it to the Eternal City to meet up with them. We spent a few days bopping around Rome before heading to Umbria for a few days in a lovely agriturismo house, sight-seeing around Citta della Pieve, Assisi and Todi. Malfunctioning car parts prevented our planned round of Orvieto, truly an adventure in the rain to lose one's windshield wipers whilst driving on the Autostrada, then try to find a meccanico to fix it. Turned out the car was too new for them to have it in stock (if it's so new one questions the maintanence by the rental car company, no?) and finally, after one meccanico rigged the driver-side wiper to function un po', we made it back to Citta della Pieve where the wonderful Fiat dealer took the wipers off a new car in the showroom and fixed our broken car.

Other than that adventure with various mechanics (I described the wiper as "being broken and going away" because I didn't know the words for "the dang thing broke and flew off while driving at 120 in the pouring rain") we enjoyed Umbria, and especially the lovely town of Assisi. We drove them to Ascoli for several days of hanging around, exploring our region, eating a lot, laughing a lot, and taking a day trip to San Marino. It's the nutshell version, of course. We returned them to Roma for their last night, where wonderful Uncle Dean, always having connections and brilliant ideas, set up rooms as the plush Hotel Intercontinental for the night, where we were treated in a manner to which we'd like to become accostomed (but cannot afford to!). Dinner with friends and family rounded out the evening and we regretted saying goodbye yesterday as they left for the airport. It was fabulous seeing them.

In the midst of all this touring about, I'm also trying to work on three articles, outline articles for my newest project of writing a newsletter for a vacation rental company, and still outlining with Giorgio the cookbook project. This is in addition to the mountain of laundry to tackle, the nearly-bare cupboards to fill and the floors to mop (always a chore here, as you have read in previous posts). All I can say is, it's a really good thing I don't have "a real job". Who has time?!

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Purple Rain

All over town the stores have been busily changing their displays to highlight the fall and winter styles and I have noticed that purple is the hot color this season. All shades, from iced, muted tones tending toward mauve to vibrant, warm rich violet, the color is raining down upon us from the shop windows.

I mention this not because I am a fashion maven, nor because I am overly fond of purple, but because it is somewhat of a relief that I will blend into the season’s color scheme. Not my wardrobe, mind you, as I possess precious few items in the purple spectrum. No, no…my hair.

The continuing saga of hair adventures, if you are a habitual reader of this blog and have followed the travails of bad haircuts I’ve obtained, has carried over to my life in Italia. Yesterday I purchased a semi-permanent hair color kit to cover the increasing gray sprouts that insist on forcing their way upon my head. Nothing new, as I have had this problem since I was about 18, following my grandmother and mother into the realm of prematurely gray women. I found the brand I normally used at home and perused the shades. I noticed that colorings here, while bearing the same brand and logo, have different tints that I am used to (definitely more vibrant and “fake”, usually tending toward reds), but I consulted the side panel where it shows, “if your hair color is thus, the result will be so”. Nowhere did it foretell the color that my locks currently brandish.

I didn’t even leave it on for the full recommended time (meno male for that, as they say here), and when I rinsed and towel-dried I was greeted by the mirror’s reflection of bad tidings…a purple hue in the magenta range.

For his part, Bryan is amused and thinks it looks good, as many women around here sport unusual hair colorings that are very unnatural shades of red or even black that tends to look blue. He says it is one more step toward becoming a local. With the fall colors in the storefront windows, I guess I’ll have to grin (or grit my teeth) and agree. For my part, I'm hoping it fades as quickly as the fall leaves.
copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Bunnies Beneath My Feet

There is a phenomenon in Italy that is unexplainable whereby dust accumulates faster than the speed of sound, or at least faster than the normal rate of accumulation in every other corner of the globe, thus leaving the floors in need of sweeping on an all-too-regular basis. While leaving the windows open is common and would explain dome input of dust, it doesn’t explain the rapid flow into the house. No matter how frequently I sweep, the broom gathers together a large pile of matter including large, clumpy dust bunnies which seem to multiply faster than…well, rabbits.

We had an issue with sand leaving a layer on the windowsills and beneath the entry doors in New Mexico, but that was different. It was rather localized. Here the dust is apartment-wide and is constant. A flow beneath my feet.

Speaking of "beneath my feet", everything here is tiled, which is actually a relief in that if there were carpets I’d be worrying about the accumulating dirt getting trapped within its fibers and how gross that is (in addition to the hundreds of chemicals I’d be inhaling, but that is another story). Tile is easy to sweep and mop and so really it’s a practical floor covering (except that I’ve not yet purchased the much-needed steam cleaner for mopping and must continue with the wring-out-the-rag-and-mop method previously noted in the blog archives)

The drawback, of course, is that tile is cold. During the summer when the temperature and humidity had me swooning and whining the tile floors were a blessedly cool relief. Now that the weather is normal and the mornings are a bit cool, my feet are always cold. And before you think me a simpleton, yes, I wear socks but that cold seeps right on through them. Shoes track more dirt through the house. My slippers need to be replaced for while they are cute, all the stuffing has been scrunched down to such an extent that makes them rather useless and they swish off my feet. (“Cute” because my mom gave them to me as a gift; when she saw them she laughed as they bore the banner “Baci” boldly and came stuffed with the Baci candies.)

The other issue with tile is that, when coupled with the plaster walls, the stone floors create echos and even our conversations over the dinner table have a bit of a repeat factor. We need an area rug to absorb sound but it’s been difficult to find a natural fiber at a reasonable price; something to hang on the walls would probably help give some echo relief as well. But really, how much do we want to spend to decorate a home when we don’t know how long we’ll be here? A conundrum for I do like to be comfortable (and I prefer to have warm feet).

Meanwhile, I’m sweeping the floor like I’m training for the winter Olympics curling games and trying to keep my tootsies warm. If you come across some nice, thick wool socks or cute, comfy slippers, let me know. And if you come for a visit, bring along a broom. We can have curling championships in the living room.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider