The village of San Gemini where our family of 16 was staying easily became familiar territory to our seven grandkids, ages 5 to 12. Very quickly, they learned the location of the gelato shop, which was also an espresso shop and bar, the little hole-in-the-wall pizza shop where pizza by the slice was one euro, and the tobacco shop that also sold candy and something the locals call “poppers,” which are pea-sized pellets that pop like mini firecrackers when you throw them to the pavement.
With the town’s medieval festival in full swing, there were processions, drum corps, and guys dressed up like knights staging sword fights in the central piazza.
Most of this activity didn’t get going until well after dark and continued to midnight and beyond. Local parents with kids present had no concerns about their children being up so late and many gathered in small groups chatting as their kids slammed popper after popper into the stones in the square.
Naturally our grandkids mixed right in while we sampled Umbrian wine and grappa in the sidewalk cafe.
Our villa was a short, but steep, walk up a narrow stone-paved walkway plus five flights of stairs, giving us an opportunity to walk off some of the pasta, pizza and gelato we consumed each night.
The only thing that dampened (literally) the evenings were some spectacular electrical storms that shook the walls, rattled the windows and sent us inside the taverns as the rain came down in sheets.
Periodically the lights would go out, everyone gave a cheer and the celebrating continued.
Our first group adventure beyond the old stone walls was into the Nera River Valley, where I fished for trout later in the week. But this day, our guide, Matteo Marini, drove us high up into the very top of the Apennine Mountains to the home his father and uncle built in the forest.
There, Matteo’s father, Mario, gave us all a lesson in making pasta and pasta sauce from scratch, as well as several other fantastic Italian dishes, including fried zucchini blossoms and wood-oven roasted pork.
Mario and his wife, Joanna, finished the preparations and served us all one of the best Italian meals we ever had.
This is definitely slow food country and we spent more than four hours sharing food, wine and conversation.
Matteo, who offers these very special and intimate cooking and dining experiences, has a website, culinaryholidays.com.
Matteo is a great guy and a fabulous guide. Two nights later, we invited him, his wife, Benedetta, and son, Lorenzo, to our place for dinner. A few nights later some of our adult children spent an evening enjoying highlights of the nearby city of Terni with Matteo, Benedetta and their friends.
I think we’ve made some very nice Italian friends.
Next week I will write about two of my favorite things – chocolate and fly-fishing.