The flight to Rome landed about fifteen minutes early — about 8:30 am Rome time — and we executed the now-familiar routine. Clear immigration, grab our four pullman rolling trunks from the carousel and throw them onto the two rented trollies, pass through customs, make our way to the rental car area, squeeze our household goods laden luggage into the car, and head off, although this time, instead of going south toward Puglia, we took off east to Umbria and the small town of Spello.
The hour-and-a-half drive from Rome into “the green heart of Italy” took us on superhighways and windy mountain roads, past medieval hilltop towns and ruins from former ones and through olive groves and vineyards. We passed through the ancient stone gate at the bottom of a hill and pushed the car to climb the steep grade up into the town of Spello. About half-way up to its summit, we passed the now-familiar church and, on the piazza next to it, was Enoteca Properzio, our destination.
The Angelinis were there to greet us as we escaped the confines of the rental car. Roberto and his beautiful daughter, Irene, hurried out to share the hugs and kisses to which we had been so looking forward and it was suddenly as if we had never parted. Daniela, the matron of the family, arrived with arms full of fresh vegetables from the local producers and put them down so that those arms could wrap around us. It was only moments until the food and wine began to arrive at the table they had readied for us on the plaza outside the wine store. A perfect rose prosecco accompanied the three different bruschette, a sagrantino was paired with the pasta with olive oil and fresh truffles and a glass of the Gambero “tre bichieri” rated Oasi degli Angeli Kurni montepulciano was set in front of us when the chocolate torta was served. The combination of the twelve-hour journey, an unending flow of irresistible wines and enough food to do for several days forced us to excuse ourselves and retire to the amazing apartment that the Angelinis made available to us. The few hours sleep we took was the perfect end to lunch and prepare us for the evening that awaited.
We returned to the enoteca after a few hours, having rested and rinsed down the shower drain the ick that thirty hours of travel and the stress that goes with it imparts. Roberto was sitting at a table outside the shop with another gentlemen. As we approached, he motioned us to join him and introduced us to Pietro Tili. Of course, I knew him to be the winemaker at the famous Tili Vini in Assisi. The Tilis have been in Umbria since the 13th century and have been making wine and producing olive oil since. There were two bottles of wine on the table and I relished the thought of drinking a glass with Roberto Angelini and Pietro Tili, two names famous among wine enthusiasts.
It turned out that the two bottles held two different blends of white wine and that Pietro had brought them to Roberto for his opinion prior to committing to producing the blends. I was mortified when Roberto, assuming I actually knew something about wine other than into which orifice it goes, asked me if I could identify the two grape varieties that Pietro used in the first blend. I tried to engage my brain in participating in the task of answering the question but it was only modestly interested in doing so. In the end I guessed, with absolutely no conviction whatsoever, that the wine was a blend of chardonnay and grechetto. The looks on the two gentlemen’s faces said, “Interesting answer.” My interpretation of the looks on their faces: “We have special homes here for people like you.” I could almost hear the Jeopardy buzzer going off in the background.
“Moscato and semillon,” said Pietro.
“I have a cold,” I lied.
We dined that evening at the enoteca, just we and the Angelinis. It was wonderful to be with them, to enjoy their company, even if my Italian and Roberto’s English were not up to deep conversation. We communicate on a more intuitive level that is no less satisfying. It is the sensory experiences of aroma and taste that dictates the language we speak and that language is universal. And that warm summer evening, on the moonlit piazza in front of Enoteca Properzio, the food and wine provided us all with much to talk about.
We slept the sleep of the dead that night and, when we returned to the enoteca the next morning, the cappucini and breakfast pastries awaited us. The Angelinis had a busy day ahead of them on that Sunday. A group of about twenty Australians were dropping by for a wine tasting at around noon. Later in the afternoon, a Danish tour group numbering more than fifty was arriving for a wine lunch and birthday party. We decided that we would be a burden were we to stay around, so we left Spello and drove the twenty minutes it took to get to Assisi, though we knew that we had to be back to Spello by 5:00 to greet Francesco and Colleen who were driving up from Puglia for the birthday party in my honor that evening.
We wandered the streets of Assisi for hours, imagining Saint Francis and his monastic band doing likewise. We spent time among the people attending mass at the Basilica di Francesco d’Assisi, the building of which began in 1228, and saw the frescoes, some badly damaged by a 1997 earthquake, by Cimabue and Giotto for which the lower and older part of the church is renowned. We had lunch at a restaurant perched on the edge of the hill overlooking a broad green valley. As we ate our pasta with truffles, we talked about a permanent life in Italy and how anxious we were that it would happen.
With full stomachs, and a little buzz, we climbed the long, steep paths to the Rocca Maggiore, a massive fortress built in the fourteenth century. By the time we made it to the highest point in Assisi and the fort itself, we barely had time to take in the 360 degree vista, before we had to head back to Spello to be there in time for Francesco and Colleen’s arrival.
Jessica and I sat in the bright sunshine in front of the enoteca, sipping prosecco, while Roberto and Irene conducted a wine tasting in the courtyard behind the shop for fifty Danes. Little did we know that we would soon be a part of that gathering and of festivities that landed Jessica on You Tube.
Oh, and then there was that friend of the Queen of England that Colleen yelled at. You have to check out the next post for more adventures.
Next: A Very Buon Compleanno – Act II, Scene 2: Umbria