Category: Shopping


This post is for our friend Tom and his family at Red Barn Farms. Tom just announced the amazing array of produce they are planting this year. We won’t be there to partake of all of it, but we can share a little bit of what our family is eating from the farm stands in Italy.

IMG_2373On Wednesdays, I now make it a habit to stop at the open market in Perugia’s Piazza Matteotti. It is a small market (compared to the Saturday market in the Pian di Massiano). The vendors are local producers of olive oil, wine, and cheese; and there is one family that sells produce. After picking up two pieces of fresh mozzarella and a wedge of pecorino (Jakob likes the sotto vino variety: aged under wine for at least 6 months), I make my way to the produce stand and try to think through the menu options for the week.

For several weeks we have been in the hearty winter greens stage (the only additional color on the table is provided by a few tomatoes that come from somewhere else in Italy and do not taste much better than the supermarket tomatoes we have at home). The Romanesco broccoli that the kids enjoyed is gone and we are now subsisting on rapi (broccoli rabe) and beitole (chard), which comes in several varieties (I am feeling iron fortified). But this week there were some new items on the table, including several different forms of radicchio that I had never seen before. The woman who runs the stand suggested I take an assaggio (taste) of each to see what we liked best.

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Golden Fleece

Phrixos, modeling a finely-woven himation around his waist, reaches towards his sister Helle as the golden ram carries him away; Fresco from Pompeii, Insula Occidentalis House VI.17, Naples Museum inventory: MANN 8889.

In the Argonautika, the Greek hero Jason goes on a quest with a ship full of heroes to the junction of the Black Sea and the Caucasus to find the Golden Fleece, the glittering pelt of a magic ram. That ram had once rescued a pair of royal twins, Phrixos and Helle, from the deadly designs of their stepmother Ino in the kingdom of Boiotia. The ram began to carry the twins to the kingdom of Colchis, at the eastern end of the Black Sea, but Helle swooned into the channel between Europe and Asia, thus naming the Hellespont. In Colchis, Phrixos sacrificed the ram to to the gods and gave its fleece to King Aietes. Aietes hung the fleece in a tree and set a dragon to guard over it as a guarantee of his wealth and power. Years later, Jason tries to retrieve the fleece in order to reclaim his own Thessalian throne from evil uncle Pelias.

Cashmere goats, from the Times. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Today the soft undercoat of capra aegagrus hircus, from the highlands of Central Asia (northern China and Mongolia), supplies cashmere for Brunello Cucinelli. Recently our friend Marzia and I got a tour behind the scenes of Cucinelli’s production facilities in Solomeo. Here is how hairs 14-15 microns thick (six times finer than a human hair) become fashion gold.

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Sunday lunch: spelt and lentils


Bavicchi, Via dei Priori 15

Umbrians love their legumes and cereal grains. Since early autumn, soups made with ceci (chickpeas), lenticchie (lentils), and farro spelt) have been appearing on menus around Perugia. We have sampled several variations of these warm and hearty creations (such as the soups Pedar had two weeks ago at La Taverna) and I have been trying to recreate some of them at home. Yesterday (Sunday), I read in the Giornale dell’Umbria that this week Monteleone di Spoleto was celebrating its “farro d’oro” (spelt of gold), also known as “farro di San Nicola,” the patron saint of Monteleone (see more below). I was inspired to make a zuppa di farro for lunch. Fortunately, the Antica Spezieria e Drogheria Eredi Bavicchi (Bavicchi, for short) is open on Sundays and it is just up the Via dei Priori from our apartment…

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The village of Solomeo

The village

About two weeks ago, we visited Solomeo, a small town west of Perugia with a population (last census, 2001) of 436. Buses come just a few times a day, mostly for ferrying kids back and forth from school. Automobile is the most practical form of access. We went because Solomeo is the location of Brunello Cucinelli‘s factory and outlet store (photos of the factory here, located in the castello). Cucinelli is also a founder, and the patron, of Castel Rigone Calcio, about which I am continuing to write, and he supports local historical and cultural initiatives, such as the € 1.1 million consolidation and conservation of the Arco Etrusco, the ancient northern gate to the city of Perugia, which has been under scaffolding since we arrived.

The Restoration of the Arco Etrusco in Perugia

The Restoration of the Arco Etrusco in Perugia, entirely funded by Cucinelli

At a time of serious ongoing economic constraints in Italy, Cucinelli’s success is a bright spot for Umbria, and his rise from farm to fashion has become quasi-mythical both locally and internationally. Profiles have appeared in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine (October 2013); Vegas Magazine (October 2013); Forbes (March 2013); GQ (April 2012); and Harper’s Bazaar (March 2011), to name a few.

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Fashion Boys


November Sun on the Rocca Maggiore: boys peacoat by H&M (39.95 euros); scarf by Benneton (9.95 euros) and beanie by H&M (4.95 euros). Lee jeans and Puma athletic shoes brought over from America. And yes, he is wearing socks. Very short socks.

This weekend we rented a car for three days because the boys had three soccer games (Fri, Sat, and Sun) at fields some distance away. We then decided to take advantage of the car as much as possible, which included going on Saturday to the centro commerciale (mall) in Collestrada to get reasonably-priced clothes. As we explored Assisi after Jakob’s game on Sunday, the boys decided to model some of their duds against the lovely architecture and landscape of Umbria.

The settings were the Rocca Maggiore at the top of Assisi, a largely 15th-century construction (though begun in the 12th c.) overlooking the main transport route through the heart of Umbria, and the Bosco di San Francesco, a nature preserve and art park, which featured sculpture, ruined abbeys, a visitor center, a small river with stepping stones, waterfalls and picnic areas, and an old mill converted into a restaurant.

Read further for overwrought descriptions, quotes, and glossy photos (no Photoshop).

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La Giostra del Saracino

Two weeks ago we traveled to Arezzo to visit our friends and to witness the 126th “Giostra del Saracino” – “Joust of the Saracen.” The joust takes place twice a year in Arezzo, on the last Saturday in June and the first Sunday in September. Each of the four quarters of the old city is represented by two knights, but they do not compete directly against one another. Rather, the object of the joust is a large, armored, swinging mannequin that holds a target in one hand and cat-o-nine tails in the other. This ‘automaton’ is fashioned as “Buratto, King of the Indies”, i.e. the Saracen. One might think that this tradition goes back to the Crusades, but unlike the Palio in Siena, which has been running continuously since 1644, Arezzo’s joust was ‘restored’ in 1931.

On this particular weekend, the joust coincided with the monthly Antiques Market in Arezzo. Shopping and knights, what more could our family ask for…

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