Assisi’s Glorious Day: Festa di San Francesco

September 13, 2011

San Francesco is not the patron saint of our Assisi: He is the patron saint of all Italy along with Catherine of Siena. Most Italians aren't practicing Catholics. Let's just call them "cultural Catholics". Example: ask an Italian, "Sei cattolico?" "Certo!" will be the answer. Then ask about last Mass attended. A likely reply: "a Natale" ("for Christmas"). Catholic or not, you don't mess with the name of San Francesco in this country. He is "Numero Uno" for the Italians. And Alessandro del Piero is only Numero Due (greatest Italian soccer player?)... read more...

Umbria’s Last Castle-village?

August 10, 2011

Maybe not the last of the many castle-villages in Umbria, but certainly one of the most picturesque, pink limestone gem, Collepino, slumbers on a mountainside above Spello in almost monastic quiet. Befitting: Collepino has an ancient link to a monastery, for medieval Collepino was once a defensive stronghold, protecting a nearby eleventh-century Benedictine abbey, San Silvestero.. Embrasures in the outer walls - slit-like openings for the shooting of crossbows - and the crumbling remnants of a medieval guard tower give testament to a bellicose era. read more...

Arrivederci, Umbria Jazz, 2011

July 18, 2011

"Three Ladies of Blues" had all rockin' at the jazz aperitif last night at Hotel Brufani, one of the last events of the stupendo 10-day Umbria Jazz festival in Perugia. read more...

Floral Passione Takes Over Spello

July 15, 2011

"Bello Spello, vero?", an elderly woman asks me as she polishes her brass doorknob to a gleam. Above her head, fiery red geraniums and hot pink petunias overflow in chromatic profusion from terracotta flower pots on the stone wall of her house. I thought she might win the "Finestre,Balconi e Vie Fioriti" ("Windows, balconies and alleyways") contest - until I saw Attilio's courtyard. Each day, stonemason, Attilio, returns hot and sweaty from work and after a quick shower, spends hours in his courtyard tending the 120 flower pots hanging on the pink limestone wall of his courtyard. read more...

Eating Flowers in Spello

July 14, 2011

Spello - che bello! - is becoming world famous for its magnificent flower petal tapestries - Infiorate - carpeting medieval alleyways and piazzas for Corpus Cristi. Prior to the wonders, the Spellani compete in a contest of flowering balconies, windowboxes and alleyways, try out the rose and lavender flavors featured in the main piazza gelateria - and even eat flowers... read more...

Perugia …and all that Jazz!

July 14, 2011

Since 1973, In mid-July the rhythms of jazz, R&B, soul, Gospel, swing, Latino, zydeco, bebop, tango, blues, samba - to mention a few - fill frescoed Perugia theaters, reverberate off the walls of its stately medieval city hall and wrap around the Gothic sculptural masterpiece, the 13th-c fountain, in the main piazza. Yes, things are cooking in Perugia this week giving the city the redoubtable honor of being the hottest city in Italy - but Herbie Hancock, Santana, Prince, Liza Minelli, Gilberto Gil, B.B. King and countless other top musicians - are doing the cookin'...and the rockin' fans filling the piazzas and streets are feeling a different kind of heat... read more...

Gubbio’s Forty Modern-Day Martyrs

June 23, 2011

Every year on June 22nd in Gubbio, a solemn procession led by the bishop heads to the Mausoleo dei Quaranta Martiri to pay homage to the forty civilians shot by the Germans against a nearby wall in the early morning of June 22nd, 1944. The shooting of a German medical officer and the wounding of another by partisans had resulted in an immediate irate reaction: the rounding up of local civilians by the German occupying forces. read more...

Bevagna’s Festival in June Heat: Passione

June 21, 2011

At the end of June, it's hot in Bevagna, medieval hilltown of Roman origins in the Valle Umbra Nord, Umbria's largest valley. Not exactly the ideal day for dressing in heavy woolen capes or jute or velvet gowns - or armor (!) - or for forging bronze bells, baking bread in a stone bread oven, minting coins, glass-blowing or tanning leather. Not even to be imagined: unless you are Bevignate. Months of work on their medieval festival, the Mercato delle Gaite, are coming to fruition now as the town relives its medieval culture and history...with passione. read more...

Umbria’s Sacred June Rites

June 13, 2011

It will soon be time to gather the wildflowers, weeds, grasses and leaves for the wondrous rural concoction, l'acqua di San Giovanni. After all, no morning wash is more glorious than that of Umbria's rural people in the early morning of June 24th. On June 23rd at sunset, vigil of the Festa di San Giovanni Battista, the farmwomen head out into the fields with baskets or bags to gather the cento erbe (literally,"one hundred greens or plants", though flowers as well as plants are picked). The flowers and plants will then be soaked all night in a basin - outdoors. The flower-filled basins of water must never enter the home. read more...

La Scarzuola:  From St. Francis to Savador Dali

June 10, 2011

A recent visit to La Scarzuola, in northern Umbria - where our region almost merges with Tuscany - plopped me right into a surreal world of Dali-Miro'-Escher-Fellini-like bizzarities. The name "Scarzuola" derives from a marsh plant of the area, "la scarza", used by San Francesco di Assisi, legend tells us, to build himself a shelter here in the early 13th century. read more...