domenica 28 giugno 2020

The Future of Casa Chilenne

What are our next steps? (Abandoned shoes found at our Vicolo Scala entrance 2017)

Casa Chilenne has been closed to the public since March 9th, 2020 and we have decided that we will remain closed, for now,  until September 1, 2020. We promised that when we re-opened we'd be back better than before, and as we consider the path to this promise it is clear that this is not the moment that it can be maintained.

During this shut down, so many things have changed. Providing a memorable experience for our guests and extending our homestyle hospitality and service has always been our priority and now more than ever,  it is also important that we protect our guests in every way we can from Covid 19 until there is a vaccine, or until the imminent threat is over.

Those who are familiar with us know that we are a small 5 room establishment which prides itself in offering hotel amenities in a home environment, however, even before the crisis, we had started to notice that the expectations of travellers was changing.  We prided ourselves in offering television and telephone service so that people could keep up with the news from home and their loved ones. More often than not there was a newspaper available in the breakfast room in the home languages of our guests.  We provide a mini bar for the convenience of our guests at what we feel are fair prices and so that those travelling with medications which need refrigeration  have that peace of mind.

We take pride in offering a "breakfast worth waking up for" so that guests would not have to get dressed and dash out in bad weather, or compete for a table at a coffee bar to sit and relax over breakfast and we love to spoil our guests with specialities of the season or a hot, leisurely breakfast for those who enjoy their holidays that way.

We have not changed our pricing since 2008 when we opened, yet,  we saw our reservation numbers declining over the past few years despite our glowing reviews. The exponential growth of offerings on AirBnB or other such sites, coupled with large hotels marketing cut rate rooms to increase interest in their properties, made us start to question our philosophy.

Amongst my blog drafts I found the following blog which I started in 2017- today I propose it for your feedback as we evaluate what our future should be. I would appreciate any feedback you can give me. Especially from previous guests.

"A No-Frills Future?" a blog draft from 2017

I met tourism of the future today and it frightened me.

I was contacted a few days ago by a friend who gives cooking lessons. He told me that he had been contacted by a blogger/journalist who wanted to review one of his cooking classes and would I be willing to offer hospitality for free for some blogspace with pictures. I was torn.

First of all, I have never, ever paid for reviews of our bed and breakfast. I have never, ever paid commissions to online travel agents like or; the size of our structure and budget just don't allow for it. We were, for a short time listed on AirBnB as a sort of experiment from which we received one guest and I have now paid to be present on a website called for a flat fee each year for increased visibility in the Italian market.

I do not pay to have Casa Chilenne listed on TripAdvisor and after refusing their many offers to list my website and contact information for fees starting at 4000 Euro and ending  with the last offer at 1250 Euro per year, found my rating as a B&B on their site slip from 1st or 2nd place and never rise again above 4th place, even though the simple math of number of circles awarded divided by number of reviews should land me solidly holding my original placement-go figure.

After receiving more information from my chef friend about the blogger and obtaining a link to the blog in question I visited it and had even more doubts but, I decided to accept the offer, more than anything else to help my friend obtain his review.

I already feel incredibly fortunate and honored that well known guidebooks like the Lonely Planet, Frommer's and Routard have included our home in their recommendations to their readers. All three of these inclusions were a surprise and the fruit of anonymous visits by paying visitors. To this day I cannot explain how we were included in Frommer's and Routard.

The fear that I felt today wasn't tied to economics however, it was more tied to a sort of shaking up of the tenets of hospitality by current technology.

Amenities that we have invested in and continue to spend money on  to upkeep may be swiftly becoming superfluous. Telephones, satellite television are obsolete when a decent WiFi connection is provided (of course for free).

Can it be that the expectations of travellers have changed so dramatically?

More and more, I see travellers turning to OTA's  like,, or websites like AirBnB  to find lodging for their holidays. I was visited one summer by a cousin's young daughter who was travelling with an app called couch surfers - or some similar frightening name to find her lodging around Europe.

Watching this new generation of travelers operate in this manner made me wonder about the future of our establishment. Are we passé? Have accomodations which offer comforts and amenities now obsolete? With the advancements of technology travelers no longer worry about finding  a place with television or telephones to stay in touch with news and people back home. More would rather rely on an online review to select a restaurant or activity than asking for recommendations. So what is expected from hosts today?

------------end of draft
28 June 2020
We'd appreciate any comments you might have  and thank you in advance for sharing them.
Jeanette and Luciano, and of course,  Daisy and Jake

domenica 7 giugno 2020

Covid 19 Reflections

The clock started to move forward again on May 4th from the day we shut down Italy on March 9th. We were delighted that our dog groomer was listed as one of the activities which would be able to open its doors again, along with our accountant and legal offices,  restaurants being allowed to offer take away foods.. On May 18th all other places of business, were allowed to open, hairdressers and esteticians, clothing shops, restaurants and bars were able to start serving food on premises as long as social distancing rules are observed.

 Borders to the Schengen countries opened on June 3rd and the borders to other countries will remain closed until at least June 15, at which point the EU will evaluate and see if it is the right time to open borders fully.

In the little more that 2 months that our outside world was put on hold so much has changed.  This strange situation, in many ways a social experiment, confining people within the walls of their legally declared households without a certain end date to this time of confinement. There are things that will remain etched in my soul when this crisis has passed into the chronicles of time.

I will remember this as a time that the people in Italy stopped what they were doing to put value on the mission of preserving lives.  At great personal expense, Italians stopped and sheltered, surprising the world and probably themselves with the collaborative and collective spirit which came together and set the tone for this shut down.

Italians are innately social people, they are also people who have seen the ravages of a war on home soil and the results of collaborating to re-build a nation after, so maybe it  came as a natural reaction.  When friends and neighbors could not reach out with an embrace they reached out with song in the day and also the night, to let others know they were not alone.

These romantic images of Italian communities reaching out to one another with music and song, showing support for our health workers with syncronized rounds of applause throughout the nation, the tricolor aeronautic fly overs , the colorful rainbow banners painted by children telling us that "Andrà tutto bene" Everything will be alright, will remain in my mind as the power of a nation coming together as one.

Now  we have been firmly assured by our Prime Minister Conte that we have started Phase 3, that re-opening of Italy has begun. Perhaps these positive images are starting to fade.  The reality of re-starting a nation which has been shut down for more than 2 months is daunting.  The squabbling and scrabbling for a place of power amongst our politicians has begun.

 The status of Italy as a nation, Italy as a member of the EU have been put to the test during this crisis. The Italian philosophy of "Leaving no one behind" collided with the reality that they may not really have the possibility financially to do the right thing by all its citizens.  The systems that weren't working very well, were laid bare to the light.  Besides regretting the numerous cuts to the health care system made in the past, employment and the tax system flaws are glaringly evident. The bureaucracy involved in getting the relief funds to citizens in need was cumbersome and not effective in many places, slowing down the promised aid to those in need. The many inventive ways that Italians had used to create employment for themselves which could not come under the umbrella of plans to protect traditional workers were sorely evident. The government offices which handles the monies offered to employees who were laid off during the crisis were overwhelmed by the onslaught of requests. The promises were many and the actual monies arriving were slow in many cases, especially in the bigger urban areas. Many people were left with no way to pay bills, rent and mortgages. Luckily, many banks , insurance and utility companies voluntarily postponed payments and charity organizations and the government did step in to be sure that food got on the table of those who needed it.

 However, I am skeptical that this will be sufficient. I was impressed that the government did try to address many needs of its people. Babysitting  was a concern when the factories and offices started to open again as schools were still closed and it was not recommended that grandparents be exposed to risks if they did not live in the same household. Vouchers for tax credits equal to the amount of babysitting services were offered, layoff compensation for businesses with only 1 employee, stimulus money for freelance workers, as well as small businesses were taken into consideration.  In the prime minister's address  prior to this last one,  an offering of  Vacation Vouchers to families  was announced to aid the tourism industry- however the monies being offered by the government as a discount to citizens translate into an equivalent in tax credits for 2021 to the vacation structures that accept them. The same for a 60% help with rent for business owners- again translating into as tax credit to be used in 2021 or transferred to suppliers or landlord. It seems that a new currency of tax credits is being established in a nation where we are not sure if we can keep our businesses afloat until 2021.

The European Union was called upon by all its members to decide how they were going to help their members through this crisis. Initially, the EU had seemed to be quite unsympathetic as Italy struggled in March to face the Covid 19 crisis, Tensions ran high as Germany blocked shipments of supplies needed at the borders and later when the northern European members seemed to oppose granting emergency funds to the southern members who were hit the hardest such as Italy, Spain and France, insisting that only low interest loans be made. It seems that negotiations have been successful and an recovery fund of 750 billion Euro has been created to assist the nations facing the worse of this crisis, Italy included.  It seems that there are additional funds available earmarked for specific purposes such as healthcare improvements if EU nations wanted to accept it and pay it back with very low interest.

The challenge now will be for government to come together to fix some of the defects which became so evident in light of this crisis. Prime Minister Conte addressed the nation again on June 4th, to confirm that the health impact of Covid on the nation was definitely under control and that the sacrifices and strict measures we had taken were paying off.  He also confirmed that Italy would be opening to the world soon and that all measures were being taken to ensure that people could enjoy the beauty and riches of our nation in safety.

Cortona is opening up again. The last of our bars and restaurants seem to be set to open their doors to business again this weekend. Our citizens on the whole seem to be complying with safety rules of masks and distancing. It was a nearly "normal" weekend last Saturday and Sunday with  bar tables in the piazzas and restaurants nearly full most of the afternoon, many people out for an afternoon stroll and a gelato.  People were out enjoying each other's company (with masks on and at a safe distance).  In the evening the usual locales offer their happy hour apperitifs to enthusiastic clients, happy to be out again.By day the streets are busy again with shoppers and deliveries as we slowly go back to business as usual (with masks). Casa Chilenne, for now, remains closed.

I look forward to discovering what this new Italy will be, the product of the politicking or will something new and better be born?  I guess we can only wait and see.

As I ponder on this, the matter of fact wisdom of the old barber in Pienza comes to mind.  When questioned about his reaction to the number of government changes in Italy, he replied-"We Italians always survive, despite our governments."

lunedì 25 maggio 2020


 September 16, 2004- April 27, 2020
(Traduzione Italiana in fondo)

On 27 April 2020, we lost the heart of Casa Chilenne. The speed with which she was ripped from our lives left us numb and broken hearted.  She had welcomed guests to Casa Chilenne since we opened our doors to the public in 2008- but she worked behind the scenes as we planned and remodelled the building as well. She accompanied us to all appointments to select materials, to the market to select the fabrics for our bed covers, she kept me company as I spent most of 2007 on site in what was to become Casa Chilenne under restoration. She knew the builders, the electricians, the plumbers, the painters.

I was never one to see myself as Carlotta's parent, she was my dog and I,  her human. She started out as a sort of daring declaration of independance,  as I purchased her on a day trip to Florence while accompanying a group of tourists. I was walking along Via dei Servi, on the piece of road which leads from the Accademmia to the Duomo when I saw her pouncing on and trouncing a Yorkshire puppy. From that moment I was smitten. I whipped out my credit card before consulting with Luciano. I arranged to pick up Carlotta on my way back to the bus after freetime, and then started to plan the elaborate plan of breaking the news to Luciano.  I had a trip planned to San Francisco in a week's time so my first call was to British Airways to book  passage for her. I learned that they do not accept animals in the cabin and was forced to immediately abandon my ticket and rebook us on a Lufthansa flight.

Carlotta eating one of her first Greenies
After introducing her to my tour group as we boarded for our trip back to Cortona, I immediately started to figure out how I was going to break the news to my husband.  I struggled with different scenarios in my head.  When we took the exit from the freeway to the highway and then finally to the state road with Cortona in view, I could no longer put it off . "Hello? Yes, we're on our way home, I need to tell you something..."   My husband exercising his clairvoyant skills "What did you buy?", not having courage, as I know he is thinking a handbag or something a little more usual,  " Um, nothing, but I'm bringing a puppy, really cute... "  Boom! I hear the phone slam down....I re-dial "Don't bring it home!"  BOOM!  phone slams down again.  re-dial followed by a desperate lie-" but my friend Carlo at the leather shop, gave her to me, he couldn't keep it...I can't leave her in the middle of the street"  "Don't bring it here! " Boom!

When my tour group was settled in at the hotel I brought Carlotta home to face the music.  I found a sulking husband who refused to talk to me. As I tried to calm, explain, convince, I was met with dead and hostile silence. He would only have to put up with her for the week as we were leaving for San Francisco to visit my family, I explained. Then, if he really didn't want her, I would leave her with my parents.  Dead silence.  He refused to look at her, he refused to touch her. I arranged a bed for Carlotta next to ours and we retired.  Not a word was spoken.

Needless to say, the next day, Carlotta's charms were just too much to resist and soon Luciano gave her the slightest caress on her nose.- and the rest is history. She came back from her trip to the US- filled with adventures.  The most memorable one  when she escaped from her carrier on the flight from Frankfurt to Rome and went tearing down the aisle of the plane, The little white streak, slammed to a halt smack dab in front of  the flight attendant who had strictly laid down the law when we boarded our flight. She was not to be taken out of her carrier, not even for a drink of water!

Carlotta and Daisy at work with Luciano
The first year of her life was my last year as a tour director and Carlotta spent most of the summer with Luciano. She would spend  afternoons with him in the office. They would ride the elevator up to his office in town hall and she knew exactly where his office was and would run ahead. They would go to their favorite trattoria for lunch and a grilled veal cutlet was ordered and split amongst them.When I returned home from  the first trip, I was surprised when I would put her in her bed to turn and find her on our bed. After several attempts to return her to her bed, I fell asleep and found her curled up next to me in the morning. My husband confessed that he had been letting her sleep on the bed.

Luncheon at Ambrosia
And that was just the beginning of our more than fifteen year adventure with Carlotta. She was our constant companion and incredibly sociable. She would greet all she met and had an amazing memory. She loved the many stuffed animals her friends at the thrift store gave her, she once dragged an English Sheepdog stuffed animal twice her size from the thrift store, down the hill to our apartment by Sant'Agostino Church insisting she do it herself.  It joined others in a large basket filled with dozens, each had a name she would recognize if you requested it , she'd retrieve it, From Pinky to Rosina, or Bobby Bau, she would root through the basket till she found it and brought it to us.

picture courtesy of Pat Mahoney
She liked most other canines except for a pair of dachshunds who repeatedly bullied her as a puppy. One day she decided  she'd had enough and decided to go on the offensive. She would bark as soon as she sensed them coming, outside or even inside if they passed under the window.  A survival skill she taught to her daughter Daisy when they started going for walks together.

There are so many "Carlotta Stories", the day she ran away with Tappo, one of her admirers. She slipped back out after a walk when I stopped to speak with one of the workers while we were restoring the B&B. One of the painters let her back out and I was notified by the local taxi driver Enzo that she had been seen running free in the piazza with Tappo- "Are you sure it was Carlotta?" -"Yes, she was wearing her brown jacket!"

Carlotta and 3 day old pups

Her biggest gift to us were her puppies. We were thrilled after  many attempts to breed her that we'd have a little piece of her to hold on to in the future. When the first two puppies of the four were born breach I felt the gut wrenching fear of what life would be like without her, cursing myself for the selfishness of risking her life.  But all went well , the puppies and she thrived and survived, and first her daughter Daisy joined her mother as concierge and recently son, Jake came home to share the duties.  The other puppies, Jolie and Lapo live happily in the area and have brought joy to loving families.

Carlotta and pups at 1 1/2 months

Carlotta,Daisy and Jake 

As I reflect upon this month without Carlotta, I can only think about what a pure expression of love and trust our animals give to us. Carlotta's last 24 hours on this earth were infernal as she suffered through 15 epileptic seizures that last day and night.  By the evening she was crying and howling, continuing to pace and trying to relieve her pain by pressing herself into the smallest spaces and crevices she could find. When exhausted she would collapse and doze a few moments before succumbing to yet another seizure. Jake would bark to alert us of the situation and both he and Daisy looked to me with pleading eyes, certain, trusting  that I could make things better. They seemed convinced that I would make it better  and I wished I could. I wished with all my might that I could be as great a person as they believed I was. Alas, I was not. An emergency visit to her vet, followed up with calls and messages in the night, late night calls to "Uncle Calvin" the vet in San Francisco, nothing could relieve her pain. A great sense of helplessness washed over and engulfed me.

She was my dog, the best expression of trust, loyalty  and love that I have encountered and I could only be her human.

Traduzione Italiana  (con molto diffetti).


Il 27 aprile 2020, abbiamo perso il cuore di Casa Chilenne. La velocità con cui è stata strappata dalle nostre vite ci ha lasciato intorpiditi e con i cuori spezzati. Aveva accolto gli ospiti a Casa Chilenne da quando abbiamo aperto le nostre porte al pubblico nel 2008, ma ha lavorato dietro le quinte mentre pianificavamo e ristrutturavamo anche l'edificio. Ci ha accompagnato a tutti gli appuntamenti per selezionare i materiali, al mercato per selezionare i tessuti per i nostri copriletti, mi ha tenuto compagnia mentre trascorrevo gran parte del 2007 sul sito in quella che sarebbe diventata Casa Chilenne sotto restauro. Conosceva i costruttori, gli elettricisti, gli idraulici, i pittori. Non sono mai stato uno a vedermi come genitore di Carlotta, lei era il mio cane e io, il suo essere umano. 

Tutto ha iniziato come una sorta di audace dichiarazione di indipendenza, l'ho vista ed acquistata in durante una gita a Firenze accompagnando un gruppo di turisti. Stavo camminando lungo Via dei Servi, sul pezzo di strada che porta dall'Accademmia al Duomo quando la vidi balzare e trotterellare un cucciolo di Yorkshire. Da quel momento sono stato colpito. Immediatemente ho estratto la mia carta di credito prima di consultare Luciano. Mi sono organizzato per prendere Carlotta mentre tornavo all'autobus dopo il tempo libero, e poi ho iniziato a pianificare il piano elaborato di dare notizia a Luciano. Avevo programmato un viaggio a San Francisco tra una settimana, quindi la mia prima telefonata era alla British Airways per prenotare un passaggio per lei. Ho imparato che non accettano animali in cabina e sono stato costretto ad abbandonare immediatamente il mio biglietto e riprenotarci su un Lufthansa.

Dopo averla presentata al mio gruppo di tour mentre salivamo per il nostro viaggio di ritorno a Cortona, ho subito iniziato a capire come avrei dato la notizia a mio marito. Ho lottato con diversi scenari nella mia testa. Quando prendemmo l'uscita dall'autostrada fino alla strada statale e infine alla strada provinciale con Cortona in vista, non potei più rimandare. "Ciao? Sì, stiamo tornando a casa, devo dirti una cosa ..." Mio marito usando le sue abilità chiaroveggenti "Che cosa hai comprato?" ... io, non avendo coraggio, come so che è pensando a una borsetta o qualcosa di un po 'più normale, "Uhm, niente, ma sto portando un cucciolo, davvero carino ..." Boom! Sento il telefono sbattere giù .... Ricompo '"Non portarlo a casa!" BOOM! il telefono si abbatte di nuovo. ricomposizione seguita da una menzogna disperata- "ma il mio amico Carlo al negozio di pelletteria, me l'ha data, non poteva tenerlo ... non posso lasciarla in mezzo alla strada" "Non portalo qui! "Boom! 

Quando il mio gruppo si è sistemato in albergo, portai Carlotta a casa per affrontare la situazione. Ho trovato un marito imbronciato che si è rifiutato di parlarmi. Mentre cercavo di calmare, spiegare, convincere, mi trovai in un silenzio assordente ed ostile. Avrebbe dovuto sopportarla solo per la settimana, tanto stavamo partendo per San Francisco per visitare la mia famiglia, ho spiegato. Quindi, se davvero non la desiderasse, la lascerei con i miei genitori. Silenzio di tomba. Si rifiutò di guardarla, si rifiutò di toccarla. Ho sistemato un letto per Carlotta accanto al nostro e ci siamo ritirati. Non è stata detta una parola. 

Inutile dire che il pomeriggio dopo,gli incantesimi di Carlotta erano troppo per resistere e presto Luciano le diede la minima carezza sul naso. E il resto è storia. La Carlotta è tornata dal suoi viaggi negli Stati Uniti, piena di avventure. La più memorabile quando si è riuscita a scappare dalla sua borsa sul volo da Francoforte a Roma e andò a corsa sul corridoio dell'aereo, Una piccola scheggia bianca che si è frenata a colpo di fronte all’ assistente di volo, proprio quella  che  ci aveva rigorosamente comunicati le regole quando salimmo sul nostro volo. “ E’ Lei quella con il cane?”- “Sì?”  “ IL cane non deve essere tirata fuori dal suo trasportatino per nessuna ragione, nemmeno per un drink d'acqua! Tanto è un volo corto”

Il primo anno della sua vita è stato il mio ultimo anno come direttore del tour e Carlotta ha trascorso gran parte dell'estate con Luciano. Trascorreva dei pomeriggi con lui in ufficio. Salivano con l'ascensore fino al suo ufficio nel municipio e lei sapeva esattamente dove si trovava il suo ufficio e correva avanti. Andavano nella loro trattoria preferita a pranzo e una cotoletta di vitello alla griglia veniva ordinata e divisa tra loro. Quando sono tornato a casa dal primo viaggio, sono rimasto sorpreso quando l'ho messa nel suo letto per girarmi e trovarla sul nostro letto. Dopo diversi tentativi di riportarla nel suo letto, mi sono addormentato e l'ho trovata rannicchiata accanto a me la mattina. Mio marito ha confessato che l'aveva lasciata dormire sul letto.

E quello era solo l'inizio della nostra avventura di oltre quindici anni con Carlotta. Era la nostra compagna costante e incredibilmente socievole. Salutava tutti quelli che incontrava e aveva una memoria incredibile. Amava i tanti animali di peluche che le davano le sue amiche cel mercatino dell'usato, una volta trascinava un animale di pezza un cane da pastore inglese due volte più grande dal mercatino, giù per Via Guelfa, fino al nostro appartamento dalla Chiesa di Sant'Agostino insistendo che lo facesse da sola. L’ha unito agli altri in un grande cestino pieno di dozzine, ognuno aveva un nome che avrebbe riconosciuto se lo avessi chiesto, lo avrebbe recuperato, Da Pinky a Rosina, o Bobby Bau, avrebbe scavato nel cestino fino a quando non l'avesse trovato per portarlo a noi. 

Il suo più grande regalo per noi erano i suoi cuccioli. Eravamo entusiasti dopo molti tentativi che avremmo avuto un piccolo pezzo di lei a cui aggrapparsi in futuro. Quando i primi due cuccioli dei quattro sono nati in posizione podalica   ho sentito la paura di come sarebbe stata la vita senza di lei, maledicendomi per l'egoismo di rischiare la sua vita. Ma tutto andò bene, i cuccioli e lei prosperarono e sopravvissero, e prima sua figlia Daisy si affiancò alla sua madre come concierge e di recente figlio, Jake tornò a casa per condividere le doveri. Gli altri cuccioli, Jolie e Lapo vivono felici nella zona e hanno portato gioia alle famiglie amorevoli.

Le piacevano la maggior parte degli altri cani, ad eccezione di una coppia di bassotti che l'hanno ripetutamente aggrediti da cucciolo. Un giorno decise di averne avuto abbastanza e decise di passare all'offensiva. Abbaiava non appena li avvertiva arrivare, fuori o addirittura dentro se fossero passati sotto la finestra. Un'abilità di sopravvivenza che ha insegnato a sua figlia Daisy quando hanno iniziato a fare passeggiate insieme.

Ci sono così tante "storie di Carlotta", il giorno in cui è fuggita con Tappo, uno dei suoi ammiratori. È scivolata fuori dopo una passeggiata quando mi sono fermato a parlare con uno dei lavoratori mentre stavamo restaurando il B&B. Uno dei pittori la lasciò uscire e fui avvisato dal tassista locale Enzo che era stata vista correre libero in piazza con Tappo- "Sei sicuro che fosse Carlotta?" - "Sì, indossava la sua giacca marrone!"

Mentre rifletto su questo mese senza Carlotta, posso solo pensare alla pura espressione di amore e fiducia i nostri animali ci danno. Le ultime 24 ore di Carlotta su questa terra furono infernali , ha sofferto 15 attacchi epilettici quell'ultimo giorno e la notte. La sera piangeva e ululava, continuando a camminare e cercando di alleviare il suo dolore spingendosi negli spazi più piccoli e nelle fessure che riusciva a trovare. Una volta esaurita, sarebbe crollata e sonnecchiata qualche istante prima di soccombere a un altro attacco. Jake abbaiava per avvisarci della situazione e sia lui che Daisy mi guardarono con occhi supplicanti, certi, fiduciosi che io potessi risolvere la situazione. Sembravano convinti che l’avrei curata e che avvessi il super potere di farlo. Desideravo con tutte le mie forze di poter essere una persona eccezionale come credevano che fossi. Ahimè, non lo ero. Una visita di emergenza dal suo veterinario, seguita da chiamate e messaggi nella notte, chiamate in  tarda notte a "Zio Calvin" il veterinario a San Francisco, nulla poteva alleviare il suo dolore. Un grande senso di impotenza mi travolse e mi avvolse.

Era il mio cane, la migliore espressione di fiducia, lealtà e amore che ho incontrato e potevo solo essere il suo essere umano.

domenica 19 novembre 2017

Hungry Hearts

  As the holidays, especially Thanksgiving arrives,  we are excited to usher in a season of caring and giving . It is so easy to get lost in the  bustle and worries, the little stuff.
It became clear to me yesterday in an unexpected way, that we should always be mindful of giving true hospitality at Casa Chilenne.
  Cortona has become a special place to so many people not just because of the sites, but because of their experiences here with the people they've met.   We are a small community, still willing to take a moment to welcome another into our fold, especially when one enters with the same love and appreciation of our little paradise.  We unexpectedly loss a person who had been a guest in our home multiple times. He came back always  happy and astounded to find his place waiting for him.  Pleasantly surprised when the fruit vendor remembered him, or the tobacco shop owner said hello, or that the family at the coffee bar were happy to greet him and welcome him back as he proudly modelled the shirt they'd sent him. I truly believe that it was this feeling of community and friendship that brought this man back to us again and again. The world can become a lonely place, even in a crowd if we lose our sense of caring for our fellow citizens of this earth, if we stop taking the time to engage and reach out.

  This holiday season and always, we will strive to make everyone feel welcome at our table -  and we feel blessed to be able to share this beautiful place with others.


domenica 9 aprile 2017

The Real Price of War

I thank Carlotta and Daisy again for conceding a place on their blog for me to continue to recount the experiences shared with me by survivors  of WWII on Italian soil.

As mentioned in my previous blog entry, after the armistice day of September 8, 1943, the Italian people were left an occupied nation under the martial law of their former allies, the Germans and without the leadership of their king who has taken refuge in the Allied nations controlled areas of Brindisi. Food was scarse, especially in the cities. City dwellers who had the possibility  sent their children to country relatives, with hope that it would be safer from bombings and they would escape starvation. From September 8, 1943 they waited to be liberated. While they waited,  the German forces in Italy now struggled to fight a war against the allies and at the same time control a vast occupied area.  The Germans gave orders for all Italians to hand in their arms and made a  declaration that 10 Italians would be executed for every German life loss to partisan rebellion. The Allies struggled to capture the peninsola as well. Although their landings in Sicily and Salerno were quite rapid and successful, the landings in Anzio and Nettuno proved to be a bit more difficult. Especially challenging was the capture of the Benedictine monastary of Montecassino which had become the stopping point northward  . Bombings by the Allies to target railways, suspected German headquarters and other strategic points became common and extensive. Around Montecassino entire villages are reduced to rubble. Cortona escaped this level of destruction, and the reasons given are fascinating.

View of Cortona from Camucia, foreground area is that of the railway station

There are some who say that Cortona, although on the top of the hill, was not bombed because it was not of any strategic importance ; by the time the Allies had pushed that far north the Germans were already retreating. This is not to say that the area was spared bombing. The Allies strived to disrupt transportation lines and roads and the train station in Camucia was bombed at least twice. The grandparents of a colleague of mine who lived by the station rebuilt their house from the rubble only to have it  again destroyed- leaving them the task of rebuilding once more.

Statue of Santa Margherita
Others claim that orders had been given one day to bomb the upper part of the city by the fortress on a morning that a cold fog was shrouding the city at the planned time of attack. A Brit expat I knew, Martin Attwood,  claims that the British pilot given the mission to bomb the city was about to drop his warheads on the city when suddenly the fog lifted and he saw the beauty of the architecture below him, which made him decide to continue flying further into the wooded side of the mountain and release his load there. Supposedly this story was brought back to the city post war when Martin met the pilot during a post war visit to the city as a tourist. He wanted to see upclose the city he had decided not to bomb.

There are other versions of this story that credit the patron Santa Margherita with an appearance or at least with causing the miracle which caused the fog to abruptly rise, but I did not have the fortune of collecting this story first hand so I will leave it at that.

Placard on the first pillar of the cathedral describing the strange event of July 3, 1944.

There is a well documented testimony of intervention by the patron saint which is engraved on a stone affixed to the outer wall of the town Duomo (cathedral).    The inscription describes an event during a bombing on the morning of July 3, 1944.when a large mass was launched by an explosion toward the façade of the church. According to witnesses as the boulder fell into the line of the vision of the statue of the saint facing the church it shattered in to many small stones which rained down into the clearing in front saving the building from serious damage.

Santa Margherita watching over the Piazza del Duomo

Besides the intervening hand of Cortona's patron saint, there are figures in the local clergy at the time who were credited with insuring the safety for the city. Many of the German officers who were assigned to Italy were men of privileged background. Many had studied abroad and many in religious based institutions. Many of them were familiar with the historical treasures to be found in Italy. The officer assigned to Cortona knew the "Annunciation" a 1436 painting by Fra' Angelico very well. It is a painting which is considered to be a  pivotal piece in western art history bridging medieval and renaissance  painting styles.  During the years that Cortona was under the command of this officer, it is said that there were negotiations made between the parish priest and the officer. The officer admired this painting very much and  would have very much liked to somehow acquire it. The priest was coy and used it like a carrot to guarantee a bit more leniency in enforcing the martial law and a promise that should time come for them to pull out of the city they would do so without resistance that would cause tragedy.
Altar piece "The Annuciation" by Fra'Angelico 1436 in the collection of the Museo Diocesano
This is not to say that the people of Cortona escaped the violence  of war at the hands of the German soldiers. The threat of 10 civilian lives for every German soldier killed by Italians hung over their heads. In the mountain community of Falzano above Cortona, at the end of June 1944, the partisans had attacked some of the German patrols in the area. In retaliation twelve random Italians, including women and children were captured and imprisoned in a barn which was then set on fire. The next morning the solidiers returned to the smoldering scene and finished off the survivors with their guns. One adolescent boy was sheltered from the fire by a fallen beam and survived by playing dead amongst the bodies. Badly burned, he survived and has re-told the take if his misadventure at  war crime hearings and most recently at ceremonies to remember the martyrs.

Renato Mariotti, Cortonese survivor of Mauthausen (1922-2015)
Another haunting testimony was documented for future generations from a Cortonese survivor of the Mauthausen concentration camp, Renato Mariotti. The 8th of September 1943 was for most, a great day of confusion, thought to signify the end of the war. Renato was a sailor and in the middle of the sea near Yugoslavia. The crew decided to plot a course home to Italy and docked at Fano from where Mariotti then travelled on foot to Arezzo then home to Cortona. When he arrived home, he discovered that he was considered to be a deserter and summoned to the Carabinieri station. He was told that he would have to report back to the Navy. He asked to be given the chance to report on his own and left for Florence to meet with his brother Francesco and find a way for them to escape together. They were both arrested in Florence by the SS, and subsequently transferred to the death camp in Austria. Francesco upon arrival understood exactly where they were and what his fate would be. Renato miraculously survived in the camps for 14 months and lived to return to Cortona. Only now, after his passing have I listened to the interviews he left behind detailing the horrors he experienced, and 70 years later his incredule recounting of the extreme acts of cruelty which could be inflicted by one human being against another. Before I knew of his past I had seen and cordially greeted this man in the square. I always found him to be gentle and kind, never suspecting the hell he had endured. A hell he chose out of love for his brother. Renato's  documents would have allowed him to be released in Florence by the SS, but he asked to stay and accompany his brother in his fate.

The other day, my good friend Lyndall Passerini, widow of the Count Lorenzo Passerini, came to visit and we discussed the memories her husband had shared about the times of occupied Cortona. The Palazzone is the imposing 15th century castle built by the Cardinal Silvio Passerini and residence to the noble family. It was at the time of the war inhabited by the dowager countess and first occupied by the Italian troops, then the Germans and ultimately Indian soldiers from the British troops during the period of the war.
View of Palazzone from the road below it

According to accounts of her husband, the Contessa was able to command  the "guests" that there was to be silence after 10 pm and that the chickens belonging to the 14 or so families in residence at the palace were not to be disturbed, Her wishes were mostly respected up until the end of the German occupation. As the German soldiers prepared for their retreat they attempted to requisition as many oxcarts from the farmers as they could to load them up with supplies of cheeses and wine, meats and oil as they escaped. Though previously respectful of their surroundings, some of the soldiers, perhaps those who recognized their value, lopped off the sculpted heads from the Etruscan funerary urns in the courtyard of the palace to take home as souvenirs in their packs.

 What they did not know is that the  great white Chianina oxen are trained to pull the carts in teams, one always on the right and one always on the left. In order to hinder their escape, the farmers consigned their ox and carts as ordered but with the oxen hooked up the wrong way. The poor beasts took a beating but were unable to move forward and we are told that out of frustration and revenge a small child was thrown out a window of the palazzo.

There were 43 Cortonese who lost there lives at the hands of their former allies during the occupation. Too many for sure but, fewer than some of their more unfortunate neighbors.

In Montelpulciano  where the partisan movement was especially strong they remember over 50 martyrs hanged from the walls in retaliation for attacks on German soldiers.

View of the war scarred posterior of the Duomo of Pienza

While working in Pienza as a tour director our group stayed in a hotel next to the Carabinieri station which had an eagle carved on the façade. I realized after time that it was the remains of the symbol of the Nazi movement and that the swastika had been removed from the eagles claws  after the war  and the building taken over by the Carabinieri. I also learned the story of Elisa Ciolfi. The allies knew that Pienza had an important German headquarters and therefore, the town was a frequent target of bombings. If one goes to visit it today, the entrance to the city has a new gate and upon entering it, there are new buildings within the old city. The cathedral façade still shows the scars and pock marks left behind by gunfire and schrapnel.  But Elisa's story is that which remains deeply embedded in my mind as the tragic price of a war.During an air raid, Elisa Ciolfi was with a friend who had a bedridden, infirm daughter . The two women heard the sirens but  could not move the girl to shelter. To reassure and comfort her friend, Elisa told her not to worry they would wait together for the air raid alarms to end. Unfortunately it ended their lives. The street next to my hotel was called Via Elisa Ciolfi and the location of the houses that were bombed.

 In Civitella della Valdichiana and the surrounding farming area one of the most terrifying massacres of civilians at the hands of German soldiers took place. 244 lives were taken in 1 day, the 29th of June 1944 in retaliation for the death of 4 German soldiers on the 18th of June at the hands of partisans. Unable to get the local people to collaborate and single out the culprits, the order was given that Sunday morning for three squads to enter homes and shoot on sight. During the celebration of mass at the Cathedral of Civitella, troops broke into the church and killed 155 people, including the parish priest.

As the 25th of April Liberation Day holiday grows nearer, I want to remember what the true meaning of that day was for the people who lived it. These were the dark days that proceeded it. They were days that left one to wonder where and if humanity existed and if the world could ever be the same again.

domenica 26 marzo 2017

The Road to Freedom

The 25th of April 1945 is the official Liberation Day holiday at the end of World War II.  In the past we have published pictures of the cermonies of rememberance of this day which is special in Cortona because it is also the day of liberation  in 1261 of  Cortona from the control of Arezzo (that nasty neighbor and now head of the province down the road), thus making Saint Mark the patron saint of the city because the 25th of April is his feast day. Those who have followed our earlier posts may remember this.

Last week, I (Jeanette, not Carlotta), had the honor and opportunity to accompany a group of travellers from California to trace events of the Italian campaign of the allied forces in World War II as they fought for control of the country after the King of Italy had signed the armistice agreement with the allies then fled  first to Brindisi and then left Italy for Portugal. Over the years, after living in a land which survived  years of modern warfare on their home soil, I've collected many stories from people who lived during this tragic time and were willing to share them. To give more meaning this year to that long awaited day of April 25, 1945, I feel that it is befitting to share some of these accounts. They were dark times, but I strongly feel that we must remember to really appreciate the value of peace, of diplomacy, of giving a value to human life. I share these stories which were passed on to me as an oral history and write them down here as they were told to me.

What are We Fighting For?

With the announcement on September 8, 1943 that the King of Savoy had signed the Armisitice with the allies and fled to Brindisi, the people of Italy were already starved and strained from the tolls of the war since they entered as part of the Axis with Germany and Japan back in October of 1941, Italy and it's people were now in German occupied territory.
According to my father in law, Oberdan, now 101 years old, he knew on that day he would not fare well as an Italian soldier stationed in Bologna, so he immediately donned his civilian clothes disposed of his uniform and made his way back to Cortona by hitchhiking and walking. His fear was being stopped and captured to be shipped to prisoner and concentration camps in the north.

Oberdan grew up  in San Martino, a small village below the hill of Cortona, his family (especially his mother) wanted to insure him a good education and position in the community and sent him to study in the seminary in Cortona. After he ran away twice, to return home on foot, they gave up on that dream. In the thirties the family was fairly well off with land, but there were few jobs to be had. So Oberdan  enrolled in the army and participated in the Libyan campaign in the calvary division. When war was declared  he was 25 and had returned to civilian life. He was working as a postal clerk when he was recalled to arms. He was considered an "older" veteran soldier and sent to Bologna to work with the military post.

My mother in law Margherita had grown up in Cortona and met Oberdan while working together at the post office there before the war. In the days following the armistice she saw the post office invaded by german soldiers, a bomb planted and the telegraph destroyed to avoid any communications going out. The postal workers were sent home - she returned to the family farm where she lived with her in-laws in San Martino to  wait and hope for Oberdan's safe return.

The family farm was large and had orchards, gardens. They raised chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, a few cows and cattle, and horses. When the war began, the Germans had taken over the farm to become their cooking kitchens. The food supplies were prepared then sent to the soldiers fighting afield, many in Montecassino. In times of peace, the running and managment of a subsistance farm in the tuscan countryside was very different than the way that the german soldiers managed the resources. A single pig was utilized by the italians from head to tail, quite literally using everything but the squeal. In these times of war, Margherita remembered the great hunger suffered by the family and tenent farmers as animals were quickly slaughtered and only the prime cuts used by the germans whilst the rest which could have fed many, were discarded to rot, no one dared to take them back after they'd been seized by the soldiers.

My husband Luciano's grandmother, Pia, was not one who was to take this all in stride. One day exasperated as two of her chickens were being carried off, one in each beefy hand of an enormous German soldier, she sprang upon him from the back her hands gripping his neck crying " And what are we supposed to eat ? La merda?!" Pia was a small woman who did not stand 5 feet tall and her protest was met with amusement by the soldier and his companions as he walked away with his spoils and Nonna Pia clinging to his back. And so she plotted a more subtle revenge.
I lived with my in-laws for 5 years, I was shocked one day as Margherita pulled out a large tin box, as she looked for a good strong spoon to feed the dogs with. The box was filled with stainless steel cutlery all with engraved eagles clutching swastikas on the handles. Nonna Pia had decided that if they were to take her goods, she would collect her own payment and when she had a chance would pilfer their cutlery.

When Oberdan made it home from Bologna a little less than a week after the armistice, the county was now under the martial law of their former allies. It was ordered that all citizens surrender their arms and as penalty for any German life loss to attack by the indigenous people, 10 Italian lives would be taken (woman and children included). Oberdan's youngest brother Betto, who was 17 at the time had been sent with a sack of weapons to be hidden in the mountains to avoid the sequester. The loss of weapons meant a loss of a means of procuring food by hunting, they were too precious to surrender. While on his way, sack slung over his shoulder, he was stopped by a German patrol. Overcome with panic Betto, drew out the pistol he had been given to protect himself and shot one of the soldiers, wounding him, and fled for the hills leaving the precious sack behind.

In the middle of the night, shortly after Betto's escape, my in-laws and all their family were dragged out of bed and out of their house. For Margherita, time seemed endless as they were questioned about the shooting incident. They looked over Oberdan, there was some resemblence but obviously, Betto was much younger. Margherita was sure they would all die that night- but unlike many others, they were spared.

So many had followed Mussolini into believing that they would create a great Empire again, become that great power. Subsidies  handed out to agricultural families and prizes for the birth of more children eased poverty and won him much popularity. Promises that government would be efficient and trains would run on time, a model of modern efficiency in architecture and organization appealed to the fantasy of a powerful future.  They had been lulled into believing that joining the war axis with the Germans was the best choice, They had an up-close view of the strength of their neighbors over the border and had been promised a quick victory. Now they were a hungry, occupied nation, fearing for their lives and hoping for the arrival of liberation.

 Oberdan's father, Agosto, reserved wine in his cellar for the English who he hoped would come to save them.

mercoledì 8 marzo 2017

Up on the Roof

A place that is well loved by our guests is our roof terrace. In the midst of our city we thought it would be nice to have a green spot to sit and enjoy the sunset or sunrise, the company of others with a coffee, tea or glass of wine. Many enjoy having the bird's eye view of the Via Nazionale as strollers and parades pass by.
 As you may know, Jeanette loves cooking and having some fresh herbs on hand so you will find rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, basil in the summer, and whatever can escape her hopelessly brown thumb.  Some guests have found this great for  brewing their own infusions and tisanes, or add a few leaves to sandwiches or salads. We're also excited that it can help support honeybees and butterflies and hopefully sustain our fragile ecosystem.  It seems like a win-win to us.

One of the challenges of running Casa Chilenne with the services and amenities we offer is keeping our energy costs down, Our five rooms with air conditioning, mini-bars , televisions, kitchens with ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, not to mention all our lights, leave a gigantic carbon footprint. We've decided this year to make a change which we hope will enable us to keep offering the same services at the same prices, and also reduce the impact that excess energy consumption has on our budget and the planet. Our well-reknown neighborhood electrician, Giulio Moretti and assistant Simone are back again. This time for more than maintenance after our year and a half restoration project here.  We are converting all of our illumination to LED!  We've been happy with the quality of light that these light sources can now produce (warm and inviting, contrary to some of the earlier versions) so we are very excited about this change. We are hoping we have found another win-win situation.

The next project  hopefully for 2018, will be creating a shade structure for the roof terrace and finally repaving to correct the pitch!. It faces south so enjoys full sun all day. Not so great in the summer but the star jasmine and roses seem to be more forgiving than previous victims. We have enlisted the experience of a garden consultant, Francesco, who we have known since he was but a bambino. With his help, We may venture into a little roof top victory garden- will heirloom cherry tomatoes or tuscan round zucchini escape Jeanette's  touch of doom?  The proof will come in the zucchini bread.