A newly-married couple from Los Angeles quit their jobs to work on farms and wineries across Europe. Read it from the beginning...

Donkey Loves Kitty

Posted: August 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Italy, Umbria | 1 Comment »

The family donkey wants to be friends with the sleeping, family cat, who does not. This was the scene at this mornings breakfast table. The donkey has been out of its pen, wandering onto the porch, trying to sneak sips of my tea, and of course, harassing the cat.

Under The Tuscan Rain (Video)

Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Italy, Tuscany, Video | 6 Comments »

Under The Tuscan Rain from Devon DeLapp on Vimeo.

A rainy afternoon at Podere Trove, near Petroio (you can hear their church bells), in Tuscany Italy. Shot with the Canon Rebel T2i and cut in that great and deeply respected stalwart of editing, iMovie.

Pizza Night in Umbria

Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Italy, Meals, Umbria | 5 Comments »

I was surprised at the number of people outside this late on a Tuesday night. Older people, too. A dozen men and women with gray hair, sitting, talking, playing bridge in front of the bar, all orange in the light of the security lamp above them. Two men passionately argued, or maybe passionately agreed. Anger and enjoyment in Italian still sounds the same to me. Heads craned to watch Halbe and I pass.

We rounded the corner of the bar and went down a small hill to a pizzeria beneath it. Six or seven tables were setup outside. A large group filled a few tables pushed together. The rest were empty. We sat apart from the group and a teenage girl brought us menus. She said something to us in Italian we didn’t understand. We looked at each other, then hesitantly nodded at the girl. I may have said, “Si.” She left, then returned with glass bottle of mineral water. That’s one mystery solved.

Choosing from the menu was easier. Many pizza names looked familiar from pizzerias in the States. I selected a “margherita” (tomato sauce, mozzarella, 4 euros), and Halbe went for “prosciutto cotto” (thin sliced and smoked ham, mozzarella, 5 euros). We started with bruschetta mista (mixed bruschetta: slices of bread with tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil, or melted cheese/sausage, or melted cheese/salami, 3 euros) and went for a half-liter (mezzo litro) of the house red wine (3 euros).

The pizza crust was cracker thin, but pliant, slightly chewy, and with a hint of salt. The sauce was on the sweet side, not sugary like white sugar, but with the sweetness of ripe fruit, or a fresh tomato. It played well with the bubbles of the crust, frozen into brown and black shells by the intense heat of the oven. The cheese was pleasantly creamy with the faintest watery pungency, like that of plain yoghurt, or dry hay. It became a bit rubbery as it cooled, and was arranged on the surface in cut circles, like pieces of pepperoni. The wine, surprisingly, was excellent. Warm, smooth, smokey, and best of all, cheap.

We listened to the large group (who turned out to be English on holiday). They took turns photographing one another. One stuck out her tongue briefly. She snapped it back before the shot could be taken, and uncomfortably chuckled and apologized for her behavior. It all felt very British.

A small dog begged at their table. The cook came out and shooed it away with a dish towel and a few sharp words in Italian. Minutes later it returned and gazed at us with hopeful eyes.

I’m envious of these thin crusts. I enjoy making pizza but I just can’t get the crust thinner than a bready half-inch or so. Any thinner and the dough splits apart. Meanwhile, at a tiny pizzeria in a tiny village, the pizza is almost thin enough to see through.

Sad, yes, but one day perhaps I’ll learn. Our current host has mentioned we may visit a pizzeria owned by a friend of his. Maybe then the secret of Italian pizza will be revealed to me. Until then, we’ll just have to enjoy the pizza from the countless pizzerias dotting this country. I think I can live with that.

Octopus-armed Sulphur Slinger

Posted: August 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bordeaux, France, Wine | 1 Comment »

This Doc-Oc mishap is a specialized piece of viticulture equipment used to spray the vines with a copper sulfate solution. This anti-fungal agent smells strongly of sulphur — an odor that has not yet washed out from our work shirts though we have not touched a vine in almost 6 weeks. It’s attached to a special, extra-skinny John Deer tractor nimble enough to navigate the narrow rows. To see one these rumbling towards you, emitting a wall of noxious, light-blue gas, can be intimidating.

La Douve to the Château

Posted: August 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Normandy | No Comments »

The Douve river flows past the château we stayed at, visible in the distance. That clump of trees are the grounds, which exists as a sort of bird and wildlife refuge. What you cannot see is the enormous pudding factory directly behind it. Seriously. it’s called “Mont Blanc” are we enjoyed a can of their caramel pudding.

Devon versus Giant Wasps

Posted: August 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

A photographic narrative in six frames of horror and bravery! Watch! as Devon rids their home of a venomous, winged blight:

Wasps in wait, building their venom/larvae stockpile

They spot us

Devon arms himself with the wasps' natural enemy: the machete

Into the proverbial "lion's den"

Their home: demolished

Their threat: eliminated

Halbe, Carina the Dog, and Responsible Logging

Posted: August 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Italy, Umbria | No Comments »

Halbe and I took a hike in the hills around our current host’s home. His dog, Carina (we think it translates to “Sweetheart”) kept us company. Right here they are standing in area logged about two years ago. Italians are fiercely protective of their forests, and have practiced selective logging for centuries. A tree is left every 7 meters, then the area is left untouched for decades to regrow.

Under The Cortona Sun

Posted: August 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Italy, Unexpected Adventure | 6 Comments »

Cortona is what I feel many of the cities we’ve visited wish they were. Small, but not too small. Personal, charming, and warm. Old secrets rest in the shaded, narrow canyons of cobbled roads, criss-crossing the town like crooked fingers. True, there are tourists (we’re there, right?) but this is not Venice, or Saint Malo. People still live here and it shows. Laundry hangs from lines overhead like flags for a tiny festival. City squares hold tight circles of laughing old men. Children run solo around corners and into darkened doorways.

Halbe and I are staying in Umbria, so we drove a windy road through a mountain pass to approach the city from behind, at its summit. We walked through an arched entry in the high, defensive stone wall then continued along its ridge. Cortona is built on the side of a hill and this wall surrounds and holds up the city. It emphasizes the height Cortona holds over the long valley and low hills below. Tiny, angular farms fill out this valley like shattered chunks of glass swept into colorful piles. This is Tuscany. It continues until atmosphere sucks away the color, then shape, and the blue silhouette of a distant mountain cuts a gentle line along the bottom of the sky.

We cut into the city, not following any particular route. Tourist families passed in three’s and fours’s, huffing up the hills at a chain-gang’s plodding pace. Couples like us wandered, heads titled up to the crack of sky above.

We found gelato for one euro forty. A steal at twice the price. We sat on the stairs in Piazza della Republica and watched the flow of people from the streets terminating here. A traffic cop with supermodel legs and Gucci sunglasses talked with a cab driver blocking an entrance. She squeezed her hand into a purse and waved it in the cabbie’s face, like they were negotiating a price. A massive clock hung behind us, ticking off the time. At the hour, we heard the clanging bells of Cortona’s cathedral, and the airy bells of the church in the valley far below.

The late-day golden light slipped from the building tops and we knew the sun had set. We ate at a small pizzeria (our second in Italy — the first is a coming post). Hungry tourists in line for the place peered in the street level window to watch us eat.

As we left, I felt for a moment like I was on a film set. It’s the Disneyland effect. I grew up with close to home, traditional, suburban experiences, so the jungles of Costa Rica reminds me of Disneyland’s Jungle Ride, and not the other way around.

I took a photo. That could be a recently lit backlot at Paramount. I had to remind myself I’m in Cortona, in Tuscany, in Italy, on the other side of the world. Halbe and I walked hand in hand down these streets, then drove the windy road home.

This Tea Is Horseshit

Posted: August 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Meals, Paris | 5 Comments »

Musee d’Orsay charges four euros for a cup of tepid water and a tea bag. This photo illustrates how we felt about this fleecing. Great museum, but we can’t recommend the restaurant. The food was “just okay” but expensive, and the overpriced tea pushed us over the edge.

Montrez Les Nous = Topless French Women

Posted: August 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Paris | 3 Comments »

This handsome and generous woman was posted up all over Paris (that’s the Opera House in the background). We were surprised at first to see a topless woman used in an advertisement (carefully edited, of course) but soon, by the frequency of her appearance, we were left numb. Background noise. Don’t even notice her. At least, that’s what I told Halbe. I did sneak one photo, as you can see.

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