Archive for January, 2014


It’s chess, Jim, but not as we know it.

I'm teaching Munchkin how to play

I’m teaching Munchkin how to play

The game table that we bought in Lecce finally arrived this morning in this giant crate that we had to lug up all 53 steps to our apartment.  We finally got it unwrapped and set up with the chess pieces that I bought in Florence, but while we were setting it up I was thinking in my head “Ok, now we have the pawns, the rooks, the bishops, the knights, the king, and the queen.  Is there something else?”  It turns out that we had never noticed that the table is actually a 10×10 board instead of the standard 8×8.  So we did a little research…   Continue reading

Templars in Perugia

Jakob posing dramatically inside the church

Jakob posing dramatically inside the church

A few weeks back we thought we had spotted a Templar lodge, but we had got the wrong church military order. How interesting it was to discover that the only extant Templar church in Italy is right on the outskirts of Perugia (here’s a list of Templar sites).

The Church of San Bevignate is located on a windy road, Via Enrico dal Pozzo (‘Henry from the Well’) that extends northeast from the city, nearly to the civic cemetery of the town. The site of the Templar Church is not marked anywhere in Google Maps (which must be a conspiracy, of course), so I’m providing a map below (the church is marked by the red thumbtack), in case anyone wants to visit. You don’t have to wear a sinister cloak  when you visit, either. In fact, if you leave a form of ID at the desk, they’ll give you a tablet which has an audio tour of the complex (in multiple languages, including English). They also have quite the little Templar book display, though everything is in Italian.

Of course, Jakob loved it, and he spent a good amount of time exploring, or posing theatrically as an ‘Assassin’.

San Bevignate is marked by the red thumbtack.

San Bevignate is marked by the red thumbtack.

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Pigs are Big

Peppa Pig gioca calcio

Micah (and all of Italy, it seems) has fallen in love with Peppa Pig, the four-year old heroine of five-minute long British cartoons dubbed brilliantly into Italian (sometimes they show the original English ones too, but they don’t sound as good).

The original series ran in the U.K. from 2004-2012 in its home country. It’s about an anthropomorphic pig family and their friends and adventures, which is perfect for young kids. Every day after school Micah hurries to turn on the episodes, and he seems to have learned lots of Italian that way. The dialogue is simple (but not simplistic), and very clear, so even  older learners can follow along easily.

News-stands and bookstores are filled with merchandising — Peppa Pig storybooks, candies, figurines, sticker-books, magazines, etc. etc. One might really get sick of it all, except that the characters are just so darned cute. Simon’s favorite is Peppa’s little brother George, who can say only one word: “Dinosauro,” referring to his favorite toy, and he always growls after he says it. The episodes are also pretty funny.

On the big screen

On the big screen

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Micah’s Five-Minute Opera

About to test his vocal cords at the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

About to project his vocal cords towards the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

It is clear Micah loves music, especially singing. (And drums — but if we had them here, our neighbors would break down our doors.) Given how much music there is in Italy, and particularly in Perugia, perhaps it is not surprising that Micah is developing some operatic tendencies.

So recently he sat us down for a concert of his own construction, accompanied by Simon on the piano (Schumann’s Knecht Ruprecht, Op. 68, No. 12, and Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, from Sonata in A, K. 331).

If Micah’s friends and grandparents would enjoy a five-year-old’s five-minute opera, entitled “Yes, yes yes (if I gotta be so hungry)” here it is…(the flourish comes around 4:25).

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

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Jakob and Micah ready to eat

Last night Jakob and I decided to make homemade gnocchi. We still had plenty of red potatoes from Colfiorito and gnocchi, little potato dumplings, are a favorite ‘pasta’ dish of all the kids. They are not necessarily hard to make, but there are several steps involved and forming each dumpling by hand is time consuming. We started the process, boiling the potatoes for 40 minutes, at 4:00 pm. Dinner was ready by 8:00 pm (a respectable hour by Italian standards). It was a good thing I had Jakob to help me or I would still be cutting little bits of dough and shaping them into the gnocchi.

The effort was worth it. We made gnocchi alla sorrentina, a classic dish from the Bay of Naples that combines the fluffy gnocchi with a smooth tomato sauce and melted cheese. Everyone agreed that these were the best gnocchi we have ever had.

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Templars and Assassins

Trotting the rooftops of Lecce

Trotting the rooftops of Lecce

I love Assassin’s Creed. I love parkour.  Parkour is running and jumping and flipping in an orderly fashion over objects, and cities are good for that. Italian cities are really good for that sort of thing because the buildings are close together.

I sort of love history. In Assassin’s Creed, the ‘Assassins’ fight the ‘Templars‘. In the game, the Templars are trying to take over the world in order to have ‘peace’. So it was interesting when we went to Lecce and thought we saw an actual Templar lodge.

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