We aren’t sure how it happened. The route to the train station seemed so simple and we have even made a dry run. Yet here we are… lost in Foligno. When we stop to ask for directions, they have a familiar ring…La statziotione? Ah, bene. Va destro, e poi gira sinestra… Finally, in desperation, I call out to a lady in her car.
“Mi scusi, senora, dove e la statzione?” I cry, and she tells us to follow her then proceeds to lead us through a maze of back roads and side streets until—eccola! There is the railway station. We want to express our gratitude, but the lady merely waves and goes on her way.
All right, then. Here we are on the station, tickets ready, tension slowly ebbing and waiting for the train. Inconceivable, unbelievable… but the beastly thing is late. Ten minutes pass, twenty, thirty…the pleasant young woman near us mutters darkly that it is Berlusconi’s fault. Finally, the train pulls in and we are on our way.
It is said that all roads lead to Rome. It certainly seems as if the people of a thousand and one roads have landed at the statzione termini. There are people everywhere speaking a dozen languages and dialects and moving purposefully about… but then, we are used to the quieter, gentler place of Umbrian life. Rome is wide awake, edgy, and somehow modern in spite of its antiquity. We check into our room, which is small but has a pleasant, little balcony boasting chairs, a somewhat uncertain table and a quamquat tree full of fruit.
The great dome of Santa Maria Della Maggiore is not far away, its marble glistening under the hot, bright sun. Walking further on, we visit an old friend… the stern marble Moses, brought to life by Michaelangelo, in the piazza San Pietro in vincoli.
There in the church, sitting in one of the pews and gazing fixedly at the alter is a young man with a tee-shirt that reads, “Never give up, always attack, vigorously and ruthlessly.” I wonder why he is there and what in his life has caused him to wear such a shirt.
There are so many other sights, but we are tired and hot and opt to settle at a coffee bar in a pleasant street full of shops and eateries. The proprietor adds a plate of cookies to our drinks as well as a cheerful invitation to stay and rest. We do.
In the evening we eat at the Ristorante Sciarico, which is on via Pauline and has a wide garden shaded by Roman pines. Our table sits at the head of a small piazza which is soon full of little girls who are attending someone’s birthday party. As bright as butterflies they dance and jump and play tag… entertainment for the evening while we feast on the thinnest of pizzas topped with cheese and prociutto, the specialty of the house. The little girls are still at it when our pasta—calamarelle (calamari) for Mike and fresh tomatoes with basil for me.
While we eat it occurs to me that we have done a great deal of eating in Italy. For one thing, the Umbrian food is hearty and very tasty. For another, tramping about on steep hills and climbing ferocious slopes tends to give one an appetite.
Eating here is a ritual, a comfortable, prolonged stay at the table during which anything, from football (soccer) to family matters to politics, goes. The menu starts with appetizers, of course, and the one that most stays in my mind was savored in Spoleto— a beautifully roasted zucchini flower, stuffed with ricotta cheese and eggplant.
There are three courses on the menu but I rarely made it past the first… pasta. What can be more Italian than pasta? There are so many choices, as regard the wonderful linguini with little clams and another with shrimp and tiny scallops, so tender and sweet as to melt in the mouth. There was also another linguini tasting of fresh tomatoes and herbs that seemed so simple and yet was so delicious!
Only twice did my stomach and I progress to the ‘second’ course on the menu. Once, in Civita Nova by the sea, there were oh-so-tender calamari sliced into long, slender ribbons, sautéed with the lightest breading, and served en brochette. Then there was the surprise Chicken Marsala, a recommendation at our beloved neighborhood trattoria. This dish was not our stateside version flavored with light, sweet Marsala wine but chunks of chicken, served bone, skin and all, in a thick, salty sauce.
And then… but, of course this is the important ‘then’— the dolce or dessert. Who could live without dessert? Whilst others sipped their capuccino or their espresso, I did justice to the chef’s crowning achievements. There was a caramello so smooth and elegant that it was like downing sweet satin. There was the tarte al albicocca, an apricot tart that Mike found at the local bakery. There were the multivarious gelati that we slurped along our journeys. And the apple tart… but, basta! really, I am starting to drool, so I must stop.
Perhaps I am writing about food because I am thinking of the edibles we are likely to get on the plane tomorrow. In the morning we must leave and fly homeward, taking with us so many memories. And among those remembrances will be that of Umbria’s poppies opening their bright hearts to the sun, and dusky green olive groves, and distant church bells echoing across the hills and fields.
Will blow crimson in the wind…
But we will have gone.
Buon appetito, amici!
Along with good food,
Laughter and remembered talk..
Spring in Umbria.