venerdì 26 dicembre 2008

A Season Filled with that Warm and Fuzzy Feeling

A Holiday Hello from your Home in Tuscany, Your Home in Cortona- We Wish you a Joyous Holiday Season, May Serenity and Happiness be yours in 2009! We look forward to welcoming you home ! Jeanette, Luciano and Carlotta

domenica 21 dicembre 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

One of the things that makes Cortona Christmas different from San Francisco Christmas is the timing with decorations. It seems that right after Halloween it immediately becomes Christmas in the US. Here in Cortona, the lights on Via Nazionale and Piazza della Repubblica were the first things to appear. The truck with the "cherry picker" basket arrived on December 7th and started to install the lights which hang above the street like a canopy of white strands of lights. The tradition is that decorating should begin on the holiday of the Immaculate Conception (December 8). Carlotta was decorated by her Sig.ra Paola, her groomer with her annual red holiday bows and then we set about deciding how to transform our B&B-
Here's a picture of some of our effort and that of some of our neighbors' to welcome in the holiday season:
Giulio and Antonella's window is always eye catching

No cookies and milk for Santa when he stops in Cortona-Vin Santo and Cantucci take the chill off better!

Ivan always goes all out-he really knows how to organize a transformation that would make the best Christmas elf proud


Marco and Paola Nocchia's Galleries bring back memories of Christmases Past in Downtown, SF.

Even Roberto and Nunzi got into the spirit:

Which spread over to Massimo's Bar

And so the stage is set for Christmas in Cortona 2008-

God Bless Us One and All!

martedì 2 dicembre 2008

I Can't Believe They Ate the Whole Thing !

Well, what do you think? In the end we had 15 guest and ourselves. We had leftovers all the same and our inn guest Judy Testa and her local friend , Teri, who took the following pictures helped us out with leftovers. We had already sent a few plates home with some of our guests on Thanksgiving eve as well as a few jars of quince jam!!

Final menu:

Pumpkin Leek soup with Barley

Roast Turkey with Sage and Herb stuffing

Baked broccoli

Cranberry with candied kumquat and ginger chutney

Regular Cranberry relish, Pumpkin Crostata with a Gingersnap Crust served with a dollop of whipped cream. Homemade white and whole grain rolls.

We put all five tables end to end and set about with the task of creating an authentic Thanksgiving dinner. Our company included the diligent electrician Giulio Moretti, who helped us create our incredibly up to date lighting system, with motion sensors, dimmers and the like. He came with his family, his assistant Simone and his assistant's fiancé, Giulia. Our talented housepainting team, Ademaro, Giuliana and Rolando-Ademaro's right-on sense of color and Giuliana's gift of hand decorating worked magic, while Rolando's good temper and dedication moved our works forward. We expressed our thanks then and we express our thanks now, that the teams of artisans who worked on Casa Chilenne believed in it and gave it their best.

I couldn't help but express our thanks to these neighbors, these friends who helped us through the first harvest of a long, hard year and a half.

We also wanted to thank the friends old and new who encouraged us on this endeavor. Who believed in us enough to cheer us on. Missing from these pictures but not at the dinner table, is one of my biggest supporters, Alberto who came to shiver in the dust while we went over his English homework and was a great help at our inauguration celebration shuttling food, dishes and beverages from the kitchen up to the terrace.

Casa Chilenne is the fruit of our investment, but more than anything it is the fruit of a labor of love for one's origins, heritage and the desire to share with others the beauty of their city. These artisans dazzled us with their dedication to making our bed and breakfast the best it could be.

As hectic as it may get and as uncertain the future may seem, we know we have much to be thankful for.

mercoledì 26 novembre 2008

Over the River and Through the Woods

OK, so the whole point of getting the oversized oven for the B&B was the Thanksgiving Turkey. How many years this endeavor had been foiled by the reduced dimensions of European ovens, but this year no. It wasn't easy but we're ready, hopefully photos later.
The Thanksgiving scavenger hunt started months ago...the most challenging task was finding the source for cranberries, second only to finding the real name of cranberries in Italian (thank God for Internet!). Cranberry juice can now be found in some health food stores and of course our well stocked Molesini grocery store, but always labelled as Mirtilli Rossi. Not exact. I sent the first search and retrieve request to Roberto, the best furnished green grocer in town at the end of September. One month prior and he still couldn't get the supplier. No one knew what he wanted. We had found a small basket of them once, mixed in with the strawberries, raspberries and blueberries one winter in a year long lost in our memories ago-but no one could recall where they came from.
Back to the drawing board, I was more thorough this time I "Googled" and printed out pictures, latin name and another Italian name "mirtilli palustri", native to North America, imported by Dole. Armed with further information Roberto perservered. There was a slight detour when I ended up with 22 lbs of Quince when I thought I would have to settle for a substitute, but sure enough, I received a call from Roberto. He could procure them. Minimum order 6.5 kilos (roughly 15lbs) and he would pass them on to me at cost (65 Euros!!!) we had come too far to let mere Euros stand in the way-DO IT! I said, feeling like I had the bird of paradise in the cross-hairs of my high power rifle (no I don't have a rifle or a hunting license I just like the image). And so on Monday, a smugly satisfied Roberto delivered 6.8 kilos of cranberries (Ocean Spray from Canada at that!).
The Bird itself was the next challenge. The first Turkey order intention warnings had been placed in September as well and followed up on in the months after. How large is always the dilemma. If one has a group which can be satisfied with a 6-7 kg bird (our famous 15lbs) then a tacchinella can be ordered, that is, a female bird. If you need any larger then a tom turkey must be ordered...hmmm. I have to feed 16 or so. I put in my order for a 9-10 kg. turkey (max). Second snag, I run into the butcher and his wife on the street a few days ago- the turkeys have arrived, they are upset with the supplier, he could only send a 6.5kg and a 13+kg bird. I go home and pull out the tape measure, size up the oven. Upon doing so I slip the tape measure into my pocket and it's off to the butcher's.
Upon my arrival in the small shop, the butcher and his sons rush in the back to pull out the now famous turkey. Onlookers are amused as I pull out my tape measure and size it up. The butcher tries to be helpful. "Well, if you want I can chop off the legs"--No, that would be sacrilege.."or we could chop off the part where the wings are attached"--you just don't understand, the bird has to be whole.
Years prior I had to accept such compromises, roasting only a thigh and a breast, buying a mini turkey, no, this year was special- I had demanded and obtained the 22" wide, 11" high, 18" deep oven-there could be no compromise this year.
The good news is that this turkey is 20 inches long 10 inches high at it's highest point and I didn't measure the width but it seems to fit.
Thanksgiving will arrive in Cortona this year...if only I had planned it better and had a few more days, I could have foraged for sweet potatoes in Arezzo.
Blessings to all this holiday-we have many to count this year-hope you do too.
Update and photos to follow turkey stupor.

martedì 21 ottobre 2008

Everyday Heroes

Sunday morning was the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Blood Donors Society. As we were cleaning up after breakfast a marching band could be heard outside our window and we went to see what was happening. The marching band was leading a procession of stendard carrying participants. From all over the Valdichiana representatives of the blood donors groups came congregate and remember the loved ones lost during the wars by placing wreaths at the monuments. A bittersweet celebration which can move one to tears as these proudly altruistic individuals marched down the Via Nazionale-each banner brightly colored many lovingly hand embroidered to proudly proclaim which chapter from which town was participating in this show of solidarity to this heartfelt cause. To give to others, to take time out of busy lives to share and give a gift of life. Italy has long been a community of volunteers. The ambulance drivers, hospital volunteers, are a tradition which date to the Misericordia fraternities of the middle ages.
But it seems that people are involved in many different charity organizations. Setting up fund raising dinners for the cancer society, selling apples in the piazza to support multiple sclerosis research, hydrangeas for the child abuse hotline telefono azzurro, the rummage sales for the Caritas. As the year unfolds the piazza can host sales of gardenias, of chocolate easter eggs or ceramics, sales organized to raise money for many worthy causes.
Italy has been a nation ready to give, the victims of hurricane Katrina and the tsunami which hit Southeast Asia received millions of Euro from Italy, 2 Euros at a time when people were asked to donate via SMS . Each message sent would automatically deduct 2 Euro from the credit on the phones and be sent as a donation we were told.
As I watched the Blood donors reverse their direction after laying the wreaths and march back to the Piazza Repubblica it was easy to see the proud faces like the elderly man who marched with his two age worn hands firmly grasping his lapels. I thought about a blood donor I had met, a man in his 70's who proudly told of having made 70 donations of blood. That's at least 210 people whose lives were touched and hopefully healed due to the generosity of 1 man.
It doesn't take wars to make heroes. It only takes generosity of spirit and the willingness to give. Hats off to Everyday Heroes.

giovedì 2 ottobre 2008

Love is in the Air! Weddings in Cortona-

September blew by us in blurry flurry and the word was weddings! The big wedding here in Cortona was Jovanotti's (remember the Italian rapper? see previous capers posting) September 6th wedding. We hosted our first destination wedding guests last week! Excitement of all the celebrations just vibrated through the house. The groom was a Chinese-Italian, born and raised in Milan and the bride a lovely Korean woman born and raised in London. They had met in university and were joined by their family and friends from literally all over the world! Our house was abuzz with energy and planning.
There's something incredibly romantic about Cortona- for the past number of years there seems to be at least one wedding a week-most in our town hall but many at some of the many beautiful churches. We have 3 separate wedding planning services working full time in Cortona and they all seem to stay very busy.
One day while out on the street I heard the wailing music of bagpipes in the distance. At first I thought it was the Christmas zampagnari coming early for their tips, I was informed by a shop keeper that it was a Scottish wedding party. She told me that the tradition was for the bridal party to be led to the festivities by a bag piper.
I didn't believe it until this afternoon when I heard piper's music first in the distance than passing under our open window. Sure enough as the music grew closer, I looked out my window and saw a group of kilted men and silky gowned ladies all making their way down Via Nazionale. As they passed by, the little feathered head dresses that the brit ladies seem to favor for these occassions and the hems of the kilts fluttered a bit in the autumn breeze. The impeccable jackets with shiny buttons arranged in almost a horseshoe shape on the back of each one, and shiny, sharp black shoes with special laces were the accessories to the kilts. I wondered, do these men all own kilts? I started to have silly thoughts, such as, do kilt renters exist? Thinking back to prom night with tux rentals and mint green or baby blue ruffled shirts to match the girl's dresses.These wedding goers definitely looked less silly then we did at the prom.

This summer we saw one of the most unusual choices of wedding garb here. The bride had a dress which seemed to be a real life version of the Disney Cinderella gown-complete with bows around the hoop supported skirt! and the groom was dressed as a prince-complete with shiny silver breastplate armour-his long hair perfectly coiffed into long sausage curls! They were out and about in Cortona by night, taking wedding pictures on the medieval facade side of town hall. The reflections from the armour lit up the piazza.

When Luciano and Jeanette got married in Town Hall in 1989, they didn't know they were having a destination wedding. They thougt they were having a simple, no frills ceremony for intimate friends and family.They should have got the hint when a Danish tour group walked through their wedding ceremony and they were able to pass off the flag thrower's demonstration in the Danes' honor as a carefully planned part of their wedding celebration.

Romance seems to live here-and it seems that more and more are continuing to plan weddings in Cortona. Casa Chilenne will be hosting more wedding parties this year and in 2009-so this seems not to be a passing trend.
Optimism lives, love lives and Cortona seems to be the perfect backdrop.

venerdì 29 agosto 2008

Discovering and Re-discovering Cortona

According to archaeologists Cortona's history as a city can be traced back at least to 700 BC. However, for the citizens of Cortona this is just not old enough. When asked how old Cortona is, almost every citizen will look you straight in the eye and tell you, "Cortona è la mamma di Troia e la nonna di Roma" that is "Cortona is the mother of Troy and the grandmother of Rome" . They are making reference to Dardanus of Cortona in the epic poem by Virgil, the Eneid, Dardanus left Cortona to found the city of Troy and when that city fell, the citizens went on to found the city of Rome...or so the story goes. Therefore, Cortona as a city supposedly older than Troy and Rome.

Still others want Cortona to be even older. Stories of Pythagoras being buried here at the Etruscan temple outside the city walls. There is also a legend which tells of the selection of the site of Cortona for a starts something like this-And after great the waters subsided, the son of Noah, while navigating down a canal on his barge -looks up- and lo and behold there is a great beam of light shining down upon a hilltop...and which hilltop could that be? Of course the one right under Casa Chilenne! And after consultation with his father, it was decided that yes, this was truly a sign from God, and thus Cortona is said to be the third city built on the new, dry land that became Italy!
However, local pride aside, there is much to admire and discover here-apart from the fine artwork in our museums by Fra' Angelico (the painter, not the liquer), Luca Signorelli and Pietro da Cortona (Berrettini) and the astounding relics uncovered from the stone-age forward which are showcased at our MAEC museum, there is something much more to be appreciated in Cortona. Cortona itself.

There is a magic here, some in my home state of California would say it has an aura, an energy which makes it distinctive from any other place. It calls to you like a siren perched on the hill over the sea of the haze-filled valley. Once you are caught in its spell you must return, you want to discover, know and understand more. And when you think that you have seen it all, there's something new to discover...the Celle, one of the first monasteries founded by Saint Francis of Assisi, Luca Signorelli frescoes and paintings tucked away in San Nicolò Church, the stations of the cross designed by Futurist artist, Gino Severini , a native son of Cortona.

The list continues but you must come to discover it for yourself-
We hope you'll choose Casa Chilenne to be your home in Cortona-Your home away from home.

mercoledì 27 agosto 2008

We're Missing an Angel

Tomorrow we'll have to send off an angel- in small communities like Cortona we notice the loss of one of our citizens. Tomorrow we will say good bye, though the priest will remind us that it's only "Arrivederci" to our friend Francesca. While returning from the train station, the black and white obituary notices flicker past the moving car-sometimes we glance, catch a glimpse of a name- today I saw "Francesca"-it stuck in my mind and as Carlotta and I took our walk to buy our piece of bread for lunch we found our friend Dee reading the notice- Francesca Nandesi, age 36 passed away last night, funeral at San Filippo's at 3 pm tomorrow.
Only 36-but which Francesca? Oh no, that Francesca, who lived the life of one much younger than her years, but was filled with a joy for life, a sense of community and gave-gave to us all. Some would judge a life as imperfect at birth when defects are detected, but think again. Francesca, though medically diagnosed to be imperfect, was a perfect citizen of this city.
She greeted and inquired about the whereabouts and well-being of her fellow citizens. She was involved in community service with the Caritas rummage sales and scouts. She held a job with pride and performed it with diligence in the City Hall. She was a proud aunt-especially fond of sharing news about the twins in Bologna.
Francesca was a ray of sunshine and a breath of fresh air. She was the example of a good citizen of Cortona, a caring individual, generous in good will toward her fellow man. Her enthusiasm for life a life that others may have judged as compromised by her handicap, she lived fully and happily. I remember the glimmer of joy in Francesca's eyes as she informed Carlotta and myself that she was off to the sea in Vada-she'd be gone for almost all of August she told us with glee- we knew that we'd miss her then, we just didn't know how much. Ciao Francesca...

martedì 19 agosto 2008

Caution Cortona Can be Addictive!

As some of you may know-Carlotta's friend Jeanette is one of the examples of the phenomenon of Cortona Addiction. Jeanette arrived in Cortona in 1986-felt she had arrived to her "heart homeplace" and has never really lived anywhere else since. But Jeanette is just one of many who over the years has found a "Heart Homeplace" here.

Someone who may not be well known to the masses, but definitely known to the locals is Annie- for right around 20 years this now retired professor from the rural midwest has come to live exotic Tuscan summers.

Never one to have need of luxurious creature comfort, Annie arrives every Spring (and now that she has retired in the Fall and sometimes Winter) like a rare and welcome migrant bird to perch at the Convent of the nuns of Santa Margherita, her signature floppy cloth hat and nautical style booty bag in tow. Carlotta counts her among her friends(even if she sleeps at the competitor's) . Annie is practical and provident-she once explained that the simple tunics she sports are the most comfortable garments she has found and therefore using her skills as a seamstress has copied that pattern and replaces them for herself when they become worn- her travel bag as well (fashioned from copying the pattern of a wool bag used by shepherd children on the isle of Crete which she had purchased in the 1970's during an archaeological dig there). Her wristwatch, is a reliable mechanical Timex-she has purchased another 12 which she keeps on hand for when the one she has expires and hopes that she's stocked up that way for the rest of her days.

Annie arrives year after year-many times her arrival is announced in advance by the big box of books she sends ahead to be savored, analyzed and then passed on to the appropriate recipient of the community of ex-pats here. The Casa Chilenne library has already been enriched with some of her gifts.
Over the years Annie has built a relationship of respect and co-habitation with the nuns. Although she considers herself an extremely handicapped student of Italian, Annie has managed to learn to recognize a few words each year and in the last 2 years feels that she has overcome a language learning obstacle. Armed with her small Italian vocabulary she has even taken on a few chores for the sisters. Each morning she walks to the Caribinieri station to consign the guest registration forms, stops for her USA Today and Herald Tribune , her newspapers are thoroughly analyzed over the morning's cappuccino and brioche then passed on to appropriate parties.
Some mornings its off for a walk through the park to the swimming pool to keep her old knee injury pain at bay and in good working shape, and over the years there's probably no one better to consult about some of the best foot paths to take to discover the beauty of Cortona inside and outside the walls.

Annie's adventures aren't limited to Cortona with past excursions to archeaological digs in various parts of the world and mediterranean-however, she always comes back to Cortona and we're glad that she does return to reclaim her place in our community.

giovedì 7 agosto 2008

Robert Redford has landed with the Tuscan Sun Festival !

So somewhere in the verdant hills outside of Cortona in a luxurious villa Mr. Robert Redford is hidden away. We are told that his whereabouts are top secret- probably just to me as Cortona is a small place and news like that just doesn't stay fresh very long.

mercoledì 30 luglio 2008

Seize the Caper Blossom and Robert Redford and the notte di San Lorenzo

Alas, the Tuscan Sun Festival and Robert Redford have come and gone...fluttering away like fallen caper blossom petals to notes played by Joshua Bell.

The other day while out for a morning walk, Carlotta and I noticed that the wall at the end of Via Nazionale had lots of blooming caper bushes! The caper flower is beautiful with papery large white petals and delicate burgundy stamens. It was getting late, we didn't have our camera with us so we put it off. Today we went to the wall armed with camera...all blooms were wilted at best and alas no pictures! At least not today, there were some big fat buds that looked promising but not for today.

And this was the spirit of curiosity and amount of success we had getting a "sighting" a glimpse, a "my touch with greatness" moment while strolling the streets and casually hoping to bump into Robert Redford. Much like the time that Oprah was at the market and run as I did from square to square and displays of wares, alas, I did not get an upclose and personal moment. This is not to say that we haven't had our chances here in Cortona! I did see Cicely Tyson one day at the market-Malcolm McDowell is a good friend of a friend. Of course we have our own home grown celebrity- Lorenzo Cherubini the songwriter/singer better known as Jovanotti who introduced Italian Rap. Rumor has it that Moto GP champion Valentino "The Doctor" Rossi and friend of Jovanotti has just bought a house here and once I had lunch once at "The Antica Trattoria" with Catherine Spaack and Orso Maria Guerrini. The Queen Mother, bless her soul stopped by to visit us, as well as past pope John Paul II. All these little nods from the realm of celebrity hint that there could be something here worth seeing, enjoying, experiencing.

Tracy Chapman held a concert here-but nothing meant more to me than peering out of a friend's piazza facing balcony window to enjoy one of Lionel Hampton's last European concerts and admiring the verve and showmanship of this great-He didn't want to let down the standing room only humanity packed piazza- hopping and bopping back on stage to Give them More! and more again-
Cortona, "piccola grande" Cortona- has pulled a few stars into its orbit.

And so, August 10th is San Lorenzo's feast day, and the night of the shooting stars- Days that blaze hot-and the evening is to be spent finding a nice dark place (preferably with a good friend) and searching the heavens for shooting stars-blazes of light-to fill hearts with wishes and promises.
There is unfortunately a not so romantic side to this tale. They say that when Saint Lawrence was martyrred he was burned on a grill...YIKES!! to underline his unwavering faith, we are told that his last words were (and to paraphrase) "Turn me over, this side's done"---anyway, the shooting stars are supposed to represent the sparks.
The Comune together with the MAEC museum, the Cortona wine producers association as well as tourist promotional groups got a great idea. Organize a festival at our Fortezza Girafalco at the top of town. So from 6pm to midnight there were shuttles moving people up and down to gaze at the stars and look for hope.

The weather has been HOT, HOT, HOT and our minds turn toward foods which are constellated by capers. Vitello Tonnato-cold roast beef dressed with tuna sauce spiked with capers, Insalata di Riso, that classic Italian picnic dish, rice dressed with olives and olive oil, onion , pickles , tuna, cheese, ham, and then those drab green little buds, oddly fragrant, salty -sour. The warm origano spiced tomato and melted mozzarella of the pizza Napoli flavored with anchovy fillets and capers .The impossibly miniscule capers served with lox and cream cheese, perhaps on a bagel. The pickled caper fruit has become a mainstay as a cocktail aperitivo along with pretzels and peanuts- substituted by for the onion or olive in a martini.
So why do we have to search high and low for celebrity and notariety? It grows here wild on the walls. Each little bud had the potential become this beautiful flower!

martedì 29 luglio 2008

Cortona Friends and Neighbors

Cortona is the county seat of one of the largest comuni in Italy. The city administration is in charge of 324 sq. KM. That's a lot of land populated by about 30,000 people. 2,000 or so of these people live within the city walls of Cortona

This is a picture of the town hall of Cortona.This is the view of the town hall which can be seen as you approach from Via Nazionale, ancient east-west road. Via Nazionale is of course a new name inspired by unification of Italy as the United Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy which happened in 1861. There had been many previous changes in government over the centuries which translated into changes in the architecture of the town hall. We'll tell you more about that another day.
Getting back to the history of Il Palazzo Comunale...
It was constructed more or less on the crossroads of ancient Cortona. In Roman times it was common practice to plan and construct a main east-west road (decumano) and north-south road (cardo) in each town and the place that would serve as the gathering point to make city government policy would be planned at the crossing point. The Cortona comune lies more or less at that point. Thus, it was the habit of former mayor, Ilio Pasquì, when welcoming visitors to the city in the formal Sala dei Consigli (Council Chambers) to open his speeches with the phrase, "Welcome to the cradle of Western Civilization..."

The Via Nazionale or Rugapiana as it is called by the local folk is one of the liveliest streets in the city. It is where people go to see or be seen, gather the latest news and announcements and sadly, discover who from the community is no longer amongst us. The cynical would say that it's where the show-offs go to display all the new things they have, new shoes, new clothes or new babies-however, one most remember that the local paper "L'Etruria" comes out only every 2 weeks making fresh info and local news a rare commodity. The most important function of "la Rugapiana" is to cement the community together-it is the place where you go to seek out your friends. Here are some photos of some of our friends we met on passeggiata (our stroll) in the last few days. The photo to the right is the east end of Via Nazionale. Casa Chilenne is on the right side of the street as you enter the city at number 65.

Here are Giulio and Antonella Lucarini out for a walk with Lapo. Giulio is a talented ceramicist who made the beautiful placard for our bed and breakfast with Jeanette's logo on it.

Here's a picture of Carlotta with Enzo the taxi driver. He is her official taxi driver and has accompanied her and Jeanette to Rome twice when she went to visit family and friends in San Francisco. Enzo is just great!

Carlotta went to Enrico's shop to visit her admirer Blue. Theirs is an impossible love story but Blue never gives up. He worships the ground Carlotta walks upon-sure that one day she will be his-

The coolest dog in Cortona by far is without a doubt Bruto. Here he is enjoying the shade and watching the world go by. He's a dog of the world and has been around the block.
Daniela his owner doesn't know how many pictures have been taken of him and how far away they've travelled. He's a star and he knows it-
in the nearly 4 years that he's know Carlotta he just now has started to acknowledge her presence..

sabato 26 luglio 2008

Meet Carlotta- The Concierge of Casa Chilenne B&B, Cortona, Italy

Welcome to Carlotta's Cortona Corner...Carlotta has just taken on the new job of official concierge for her family's B&B- Casa Chilenne at Via Nazionale, 65 in Cortona, Italy.
Cortona has always been a special place which has attracted visitors from all over the globe for centuries. It is a town who's history is archeologically traced to roughly 600B.C. but oral history tells us of origins which can be traced even further back.

This blog is a place for Carlotta to share her special Cortona with you as well as special friends, four-legged and not, who she would like you to meet in the area.
She hopes to share with you a fresh point of view of her hometown and the people and places that make it special. Please check back for all the latest news!