L’Estate July 31, 2008


7-31-08 L’estate (summer) in Sarnano is in full bloom. A 10-day schedule of daily events will begin this weekend and the bumper car franchise is setting up for the third year in a row to provide invaluable training for future Roman drivers. Two things are missing this time–heat and the constant thumping of drums. This period is usually the hottest time of the year, but this year it has been pleasantly mild. And during every other summer I have been here, the hills have been alive with the sound of
bump tiddy bump,
bump tiddy bump,
bump tiddy bump tiddy
bump bump bump
as little drummer boys (and girls) practice for the annual Medieval parade. This year it has been blessedly silent. I don’t know whether the parade has been cancelled or if drummers won’t be included this time. Or maybe somebody discovered drum practice pads. Whatever, the silence has been welcome.

This morning I walked down to the Thursday open air market to pick up some veggies from a Sicilian family that I like to patronize. While the usual summer offerings like squash, eggplant, tomatoes and stone fruits were in abundance, there was very little greenery. This is normal since it is the wrong season. As opposed to the USA where everything is available year round, 24/7, in Italy if it is not grown here, it is not sold here. There are exceptions, of course, since bananas, pineapples and other popular tropical fruits can not be grown locally. Undoubtedly Italy has some trade restrictions in place, but it probably has more to do with the Italian shopper choosing to follow the traditional rhythms rather than buying something that is out of season.

On my way back from the market, I stopped off at my macelleria (butcher shop) to pick up a chicken. Marissa waited on me while Germano was busy carving up a side of beef. As the saying goes, si mangia bene in Italia. (One eats well in Italy.) But beef from the markets is often watery and tasteless. I’ve adjusted, but occasionally I get hungry for a good steak. Since there was nobody else in the shop, I decided to get brave and ask if they could order some beef from a cow that had lived for more than a year, and then hang the meat for three weeks. The age of the animal will add to the flavor; the hanging of the beef will help tenderize it and get rid of excess moisture. I can assure you that the phrases necessary for this request are not to be found in any Italian language lesson book. After about five minutes of my fumbling, mumbling, and mangling their language, I think we reached an understanding. At least Germano said in Italian, two year old cow, keep in refrigerator for three weeks. He then went on a riff explaining how this would make the meat taste better. Or that is what I think/hope he said. On August 21, we will see how all of this played out.

I will have to confess that food is about all I shop for these days. I’m beginning to hurt financially since I am being hit by the double whammy of inflation in Europe along with a decimated dollar. But there is a glimmer of hope: somebody in Washington finally tumbled to the fact that the dollar and the price of oil were moving in tandem 95% of the time. With a stronger dollar, the price of a barrel of crude oil goes down; when the dollar weakens, the price of oil goes up. The cause and effect has gone both ways, but either way, $4.00+ per gallon of gas is not a popular phenomenon with voters. The dollar hit an all-time low of €1.00 = $1.60 at the same time a barrel of crude hit $140.00. With that, the administration finally started taking some baby steps towards supporting the dollar. Incidentally, I would love for the opportunity to pay $4.00 a gallon for fuel. My last fill-up cost me the equivalent of $9.11 a gallon. Needless to say, I have been doing a lot of walking.

And speaking of walking, since failing miserably in my attempt to reach the top of the Great Wall in China in May, I have been in “training” for a second attempt in October. About five times a week, I climb up to the Piazza Alta here in Sarnano which is the equivalent to climbing about ten flights of stairs. The most direct way up uses the same stairs that the Medieval merchants would have used, I assume they had strong donkeys to carry their goods. When I am able to get to the top without stopping several times to admire the view–thus avoiding cardiac arrest–I will know I am ready for the Great Wall. Currently I’m down from six stops to three.

I’m here in Sarnano until mid August when I will go to Croatia for a week to make some final arrangements for the May 2009 tour. In September I will head for Bruges, Brussels and Canterbury to check out the hotels for the March 2009 “Dr. T” trip. I will then head to Ireland to put together the Summer 2009 tour. In my next letter, I will be asking for a show of hands to make sure there is sufficient interest for Ireland and to drum up some more support for Croatia and the 2008/9 winter tour to Sicily, the Bay of Naples and Rome. The Dr. T tour is sold out. (back)