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The acacia has beautiful and highly perfumed flowers.  Rubber Slippers in Italy makes fritelle with them and we have a good friend in Lombardia (Lombardy) who produces the most delicate organic acacia honey.

I also saw this intriguing recipe for Liquore di Robinia in the Italian magazine: Fuori Casa (March 2006 # 7)

  • 200 g acacia flowers
  • 500 g granulated sugar
  • 1 litre pure alcohol
  • 2 tbsp acacia honey
  • 1 litre water

Clean the flowers with a dry cloth, or soft brush.  Put alternate layers of the flowers and sugar in a large glass bowl.  Cover and leave to infuse for 48 hours.  Then add the alcohol and honey.  Leave the infusion until you can see that the sugar has totally dissolved.  (Approximately one month.)  Add the water and stir gently.  Strain the liquid well and bottle.


Despite their beauty, their perfume, the fritters, the honey and the liqueur, the acacia flowers pose a problem for us as we can’t open the swimming pool for guests until the flowers have dropped.  This is because they sink straight to the bottom and turn into some strange gluey, porridge which clogs the filters.

In order not to disappoint, we tell people who are interested in visiting Casalba that we can’t open the pool until the acacia flowers have dropped.  Luckily, this confetti effect usually happens towards the end of May, which is just about the right time for most guests who wish to take a dip.


Alternatively, I suppose we could just make gallons of liqueur and tons of fritelle.

We were asked whether we have air conditioning at Casalba.

Well, no we don’t.  Here are the reasons why…

Casalba is an old “casa colonica”, or farmhouse.  It was built about three hundred years ago and has very thick stone walls which do a great job of keeping out the heat of the summer sun.

Both guest apartments face north-west and so are out of the direct rays of the midday sun.

They are also on the ground floor and, therefore, protected from the heat coming through the roof which can bake all day long during the fairly reliably sunny days we enjoy during the summer months.

The floors are paved throughout in cool terracotta tiles and the windows are fitted with screens so that guests can sleep with the windows open at night.

So, as you can see, we don’t really need it.  I can’t say that it is freezing cold inside, but there is a distinct and refreshing change between the inside and outside temperatures.

Those same thick walls keep us warm in the winter.

They knew how to build houses back then!

Living Tapestry

When we went to the Feast of San Vittore back in May with our guests from Arizona, we  learnt that they were taking a break after running a photography course in our neighbouring region of Tuscany.

Joel Wolfson is a professional landscape photographer who runs photographic workshops with his wife Barbara.  Barb is the “resident naturalist” for the workshops.  She also writes The Photographer’s Wife.

Joel and Barbara’s workshops were recently highlighted in Italian Living.

All of the photographs on this post were taken in Le Marche by Joel and illustrate what D. was talking about when she mentioned the living tapestry of the landscape in this region.

“Would you mind if we renewed our wedding vows in the garden at Casalba?”

Would we mind?   Mind…?

We’d be honoured!

Rings were made from olive branches.  The music stand was turned into a lectern.  The hammocks were removed from under the acacias.  The sun was shining (after a distant rumble of thunder failed to materialise into anything sinister) and it was a happy day.

A very happy day.

Elcito

High, high up in the Monte San Vicino Nature Reserve…

… is the tiny hamlet of Elcito.

Elcito consists of a handful of houses, the ruins of a once important castle

and a church.

At approximately 824 metres above sea level, Elcito affords some stunning views and welcome breezes on hot summer days.  We visited it with my friend D. and her niece.

The following words are by D. who is now back in New York:

It was a dreary winter day in New York City and I got lost in the photo of Italian vineyards, the rows of grapevines on rolling hills reaching out into the distance.  Something about the dusty brown and green colors, the hills folding into each other like waves in the sea, the bright Italian sunshine illuminating the endless landscape sucked me into the vista and made me want to go there, even though I hate to fly.

And then there was my beloved friend who I had not seen in over twenty years, who had moved to those hills, made a life with her husband, and created the blog I was looking at.  I had to see her again along with that vista.

My niece kindly agreed to accompany me and I bought the plane tickets for June. Suddenly, all the photos from the blog came alive in three dimensions and the landscape surrounded us like a living tapestry or Technicolor movie. Even my niece commented that it was so beautiful it seemed surreal.

We drank wine from the vineyards I had seen on the blog, and limoncello made from the lemons on the balcony. We ate arugula fresh from the garden, dressed in olive oil made with olives from the surrounding trees. We saw passion fruit on the vines outside our door and a fig tree in the yard.

And just when I thought that I had seen all that there was to see that was beautiful and special, we drove to Elcito, an almost completely deserted village carved out of stone. We saw the cluster of granite gray buildings resting like a crown on the head of the mountain as we made our way up the twisting road ascending out of the patchwork fields below into the wild green above.

Urbino is a hilltop city in the north of Le Marche.

It is an absolute Renaissance jewel and the birthplace of Raphael (Raffaello), one of the most important artists of this period.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Urbino is worth a visit purely for its beauty, but our main reason this time was to see an important exhibition of Raphael’s early works.

We went with my New Yorker friend D. and her niece.

The exhibition was held in the Ducal Palace of Federico da Montefeltro who, more often than not, is portrayed in profile.  This is probably due to his very distinctive nose.  His most famous portrait is this one by Piero della Francesca.

It was a privilege to see these masterpieces first hand, particularly in the setting that Raphael knew so well.

We also visited his house.

It is a town house with an inner courtyard and well.  Simply finished and perfectly detailed.  Everything in a pure style without any fancy flourishes.

It’s the sort of place I’m sure the Pre-Raphaelite William Morris would have approved of even though he differed from Raffaello’s school of art.

“Raffaello e Urbino” closes on 12th July 2009, but you can visit the Duke’s Palace which houses the National Gallery of Le Marche at any time, together with Raphael’s house.

More information on the sites of Urbino are given here.

Since I wrote this post, D. brought my attention to this article in the New York Times

After the assassination of Julius Caesar (you know, “Et tu Brutus?” and all that)  the Emperor Augustus introduced the idea of personal body guards: the Praetorian Guard.  Saint Victor was said to be a member of this guard.  Ironically, these were the very chaps who later assassinated Caligula.

Long and slightly dodgy story cut very short: San Vittore was imprisoned for being a Christian and was beatified after refusing to denounce his faith under torture.  (The image on the left is from Wikipedia.)

San Vittore is the Patron Saint of our village.  His Saint Day is May 8th and we celebrate by getting together for a meal on the nearest weekend.

Tramp

This was the menu:

  • Spaghetti All’Amatriciana
  • Formaggio
  • Salame
  • Lonza
  • Fava Fresca
  • Porchetta
  • Caffe’ e Limoncello
  • Red & White Wine

We went along with some friends and a lovely couple of guests from Arizona.

It was a simple village meal, but the food was excellent.

I forgot to take my camera, but here is B. tucking in to the doggy bag I wasn’t too ashamed to ask for.  (Can’t stand wasting food.)

A couple of weeks ago it felt as though spring had finally arrived after what seems to have been the longest, most bitter winter I’ve spent in Italy. 

almond-blossom2

cherry1

All the signs were there: the almond tree came out in blossom; there were promising buds on the cherry; new shoots were sprouting on the elms; even the persimmon, which I thought had given up the ghost, sprang back to life.  Yet something was missing… 

Then, winter returned with a vengeance.  Back out came the jumpers, coats and extra layers.  Would it ever end?

What was missing was the return of the House Martins.  Just when I was beginning to think they’d abandoned us, I saw the first little chap. 

cherry11

That was two days ago.  How do they know?  Why didn’t they come back when they usually do?   Did someone tip them off?  Do they send an advance scout to check out the situation?  Are they sitting there in North Africa, or the Costa Del Sol tuned in to the weather forecast?  What is it?

cachiWhatever this instinct is – and it’s darn clever – they must be the guys who pass this information on to the Hoopoes (Upupa epops), because yesterday they came back too.  I saw the first one in the afternoon and this morning, heard his distinctive call joining those of the Martins and the many, many who stay with us all year round, come rain or shine.

bee

pear1The Martins stay all summer, but the Hoopoes only take a short holiday here (two weeks at most) before moving further north.  It’s odd, because I never see them on their return journey.  Maybe they prefer to stay in Provence rather than Le Marche for their autumn holidays.

I don’t have a photo of the Upupa, because he keeps taking me off-guard and is rather shy and very elusive.  If I’m lucky, I’ll post it here.  In the meantime, here is a good link.

Next year, I’m going to ignore the calendar and take my cue from the House Martins and the Hoopoes.  They know better than anyone when winter is over and spring begins.

basic-instinct

 

This post is for my lovely American friend D.  We met 30 years ago when we both lived in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – Paris.  You asked about spring in Le Marche – this is my answer.  See you in June!!!

There is a steep slope at the front of our garden and, to be honest, it isn’t very pretty.  You need to be a mountain goat to mow it and it always looks  unkempt.  I’ve tried planting ground cover, but nothing seems to do very well there.  This has everything to do with the fact that the soil is very poor, too well drained and nearly always in the shade of some ancient cypress trees under which nearly everything struggles. 

I had the tiniest bit of luck with periwinkle.  I saw that some was already growing among the weeds, so added a few more plants.  That was over three years ago.  I was expecting a carpet of blue by now!  

 

What does do well under the olive and cypress trees is the wild asparagus.  These were already well established when we moved here.  

They are rather ugly plants that don’t do anything to enhance this part of the garden.  If they weren’t so special, I’d have pulled them up ages ago. 

Here, they come into season towards the end of March/beginning of April.  So now is the time to start enjoying  them. 

If you are looking for a recipe: I just put them in boiling water for hardly a minute and serve drizzled with olive oil and a tiny squeeze of fresh lemon juice, but more often than not, I’ll just snap them from the plant and eat them raw.  They are that sweet.

 

Two of my favourite blogs have posted about wild asparagus recently:

 

 Ingrid from Vita Lenta nel bel Paese

and

Joe from Italyville 

 

If you click on the links, you’ll find more information, a couple of recipes and a neat video from Joe too!

Guests 2

panda2“Have you got a panda?” 

“Er…, no.”  I replied.

(Between you and me, I thought he was referring to  B. who has black patches over both eyes.) 

 

Then I woke up…

 

This was an excellent question from a 4 year old guest, because there is a bamboo pit at the bottom of our garden. 

Not just your ornamental type of bamboo.  It grows over 30 metres and new shoots set rapidly.  

I kept an eye on one shoot which grew from 5 centimetres to 3 metres in one summer!

  

“There is a badger there, though.”

 

“What’s that?” 

 

“Well, it’s black and white – just like a panda, but it’s nocturnal so you probably won’t see it.” 

 

“What does nocturnal mean?” 

 

This boy is going to go far. 

 

Intelligent questions from an enquiring mind.