First Day with Barbara and Dee in Spello

(October, 2013)

After a night of heavy sleep, and recovery from the flights the day before, Barbara and Dee were ready to explore Spello. We started with a hearty breakfast, and their first cappuccino at my table, and then we were off and gone.

Stocked up for breakfast, with a cappuccino to wash it down

Stocked up for breakfast, with a cappuccino to wash it down

Our first stop was a visit to the gardens of Suzanna and Phil (Filippo). They live nearby, and have a big organic garden operation in their yard, along with ducks, chickens, cats and dogs. Dee, especially, was interested in seeing Suzanna’s gardens, because Dee uses many of the same methods in her own garden, grows organic produce, and follows the blog that Suzanna posts online. We took a walk through the vegetables grown mostly in compost, and walked through the fruit trees, also. Suzanna pointed out some of her methods to us all, and even had her porch spaces full of planters, all holding more strawberries, lettuce and basil. Not an inch was wasted, all in production or nursing along small plants that would go into the garden for the fall planting.

Suzanna and Barbara touring "a very small farm"

Suzanna and Barbara touring “A Very Small Farm in Umbria,” and the duck pond at left

Suzanna, Barbara and Dee exploring the yard

Suzanna, Barbara and Dee exploring the gardens

Every bit of space in production for subsistence farming

Every bit of space in production for subsistence farming, including balconies

One of the cats finding a very comfortable "nest"

One of the cats finding a very comfortable “nest”

We headed down Via Giulia toward the centro, and stopped in to visit Marcello, in the Galleria Michelangelo. He already knew me, and I introduced my two friends—one a photographer (Dee) and one a watercolor painter (Barbara). He quickly reached for books about Spello and the Infiorata, and gave them to Dee and Barbara as gifts. (I think they sell them at the visitor center, the Pro Loco—I’m certain the green Spello guidebook is for sale, and I remember that I paid plenty for mine.)

As my guests, Dee and Barbara get star treatment from Marcello

As my guests, Dee and Barbara get star treatment and gifts from Marcello, at Galleria Michelangelo

Next, heading into the Piazza Repubblica (Spello’s main piazza), I took them into the Palazzo Comunale, and walked through the hallways where remnants of Roman marble found in Spello (“Hispellum” in Roman times) were set into the plaster of the walls and a sarcophagus left from the Roman was on display near the elevator. There were a few incised and carved Roman funeral steles, too—but mostly ancient bas-reliefs in marble.

Old pieces of Roman Spello, excavated over the years

Old pieces of Roman Spello, excavated over the years

Piece of Roman marble in the Palazzo Comunale

Piece of Roman marble in the Palazzo Comunale

Sarcophagus near the elevator in the Palazzo

Sarcophagus near the elevator in the Palazzo

Found remnants embedded in the plaster walls

Found remnants embedded in the plaster walls

Flower detail, Roman marble remnant

Flower detail, Roman marble remnant with twin dolphins

Dee getting into the swing of some photography

Dee getting into the swing of some photography

Last shots as we exit to the main piazza

Last shots as we exit to the main piazza

Out into the piazza, the benches in the small park were filled with “anziani,” and “pensioni,” the elderly and retired, who gather there to talk and swap stories every day. Dee stopped at the small alimentari (a small grocery story) to take a photo of the door display, with “catchy names” for the salumi—palle di nonno (grandfather’s balls), and coglioni di mulo (mule’s testicles). They are, in fact, pork salumi, but the strange names have been preserved here for many years.

Piazza Repubblica always full of retired men, debating

Piazza Repubblica always full of retired men, debating and arguing

Dee at the display on the small grocer's door

Dee at the display on the small grocer’s door

Passing the edicola (news stand), both of the displays featured the visit of Papa Francesco that day, the first time he was visiting Assisi on the feast day of St. Francis, his namesake. We had made the choice to remain away from Assisi and the many thousands of people expected there for his visit, and were planning on catching some of the visit on the television, instead.

Announcing the visit of Pope Francesco that same day, in Assisi

Welcoming the visit of Pope Francesco that same day, in Assisi

Special edition of the paper for the Pope's visit

Special edition of the paper for the Pope’s visit

The next stop was Luca’s pottery shop, with many examples of the production of his main shop in Deruta. He was allied with the Domiziani shop a few months earlier, but now both shops were independent, and each had more display space apart. Barbara and Dee looked around at the various styles and colors of the ceramics on display in the shop, with Luca’s sister in attendance that day, not Luca. Dee was looking for a butter dish, and Luca’s shop was a “target-rich environment,” where she had many choices.

Luca's blend of traditional and modern Majolica ceramics

Luca’s blend of traditional and modern Majolica ceramics

Barbara checking out Luca's shop, and his many patterns

Barbara checking out Luca’s shop, and his many patterns

Dee getting photos and information in the shop

Dee getting photos and information in the shop

We visited the church of Sant’Andrea, where we discovered that the small monk (frate) that tended the church alone in 2006 was still there. He had found us in the dark church on that first visit, and arrived in an instant to bring a huge halogen work light, and an extension cord of about 100 meters. The church was undergoing restoration, and was filled with scaffolding, but he didn’t want us to go away without seeing the beauty of his church, especially the Madonna and Child by Pintoricchio. He guided us around the church, talking far faster than I could possibly understand and translate, holding up the light to illuminate the chapels and art of the church, and finally invited us back to the kitchen and working rooms behind the church. There, he showed us metal sculptures that he had made from railroad spikes, hammering them into crucifixes, Christ on the cross, and he made one sculpture that included a piece of shrapnel from a WWII bombing in Foligno, and symbolized the harmony and hope that residents here had after the war was over, when they had to start rebuilding again.

Baptismal font in the Sant'Andrea church

Baptismal font in the Sant’Andrea church

The Pintoricchio Madonna, in Sant'Andrea

The Pintoricchio Madonna and Child, in Sant’Andrea

Expecting a wedding ceremony later that day

Set up, expecting a wedding ceremony later that day

Barbara photographs one of the sculptures

Barbara photographs one of the sculptures

Detail in the original carved wooden doors to the church

Detail in the original carved wooden doors to the church

We headed back uphill to the house, passing the old men in the park, still debating politics and history and the economic crisis—every single day. In Via Giulia, we passed the Madonna over the fountain, never without flowers or plants that someone left in tribute. In Piazza Gramsci, just about back home, the piazza cats were both waiting. The newer one was hunkered down on the wall, perfectly posed near a plant overflowing with blooms, a bright blue lobelia. Nearby was Fiametta (“Little Flame”), a cat that has adopted Leonardo and Paola, but belongs to a family in the piazza, She is usually on the seat of any available chair in Paola’s kitchen, invisible under the kitchen table, and it’s always a surprise to pull out a chair and find her sleeping there.

Debate goes on and on in the piazza

Debate goes on and on in the piazza

Stopping for photos down flower-bedecked small streets

Stopping for photos down flower-bedecked small streets

The Madonna on Via Giulia near the bakery

The Madonna on Via Giulia near the bakery

Piazza Gramsci cat, and lobelia nearby

Piazza Gramsci cat, and lobelia nearby

Fiametta, the cat who adopted Leonardo and Paola

Fiametta, the cat who adopted Leonardo and Paola

With our arrival back at the top of Spello, we were at home again—in time for the next meal, of course. Out came the bread, cheeses, beer and fruit—and we were all set for “pranzo.” For their first walk in Spello, we had covered a lot of ground, and Dee and Barbara were slowly getting their internal clocks readjusted to Spello time, and the Spello pace. And I could not have been more delighted to have my two girlfriends in Spello with me!

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