August 8, 2011

Moving into August

Italy grinds to a halt in August.  If you’ve not had that leak repaired in July, it won’t be repaired until September.  Everyone is al mare, at the sea, up north in the Dolomites, or visiting relatives back in the old home town.  Festa is the word.  Here in Cortona, we have the Sagra della Bistecca (grilled steak feast) followed by a porcini feast in the park, with the largest frying pan on earth sizzling with porcini.  And, of course, we have The Tuscan Sun Festival, now in it’s ninth year.

Since everyone is on vacation, parties are on the collective mind.  The piazza is hopping.


This is the month we make up the most beds for guests, the month when going to bed at two is the norm, the month our tables are the most laden. Here’s our mountain house kitchen table, ready for guests. That’s Vietri dinnerware. Two friends of ours own the company and they gave us several sets for the food shots in our Tuscan Sun Cookbook (coming out in March). The candles are sitting in flower pot saucers, with a few herbs around them, and the sunflowers are from our garden.



Every bite on the table, except the meat, is from our garden.  What a pleasure!  The faraona, guinea hen, in the middle, was roasted in our outdoor bread oven, along with the potatoes. This dinner was preceded by prosecco outside, along with a stupendous amount of fried zucchini flowers and onions.


They are as good as they look. We make a batter of beer and flour, dip in the vegetables and fry them in peanut oil. Everyone always eats two or three more than they think they should. Here they are served on a cross-cut of a fallen log–very rustic and handy for serving.

The Tuscan Sun Festival includes this year “From Things about To Disappear, I Turn Away in Time,” an art show by Ed, my husband, and our great friend Alberto Alfonso. The mayor cut the ribbon and we walked into the spacious Chiesa di Sant’ Agostino to see the result of the long collaboration between Ed and Alberto. They’ve been exchanging work–Ed, poems, Alberto paintings–for a year and a half. The goal was poem-a-day, painting-a-day, but of course life intervenes. Still, through this call-and-response exchange, they have accomplished an astonishing amount of work.  The exhibit  is in a huge deconsecrated church, allowing lavish display space.


The show’s title is a quote from Samuel Beckett. All three of us have been haunted by the ambiguity of “in time.” The five Beckett installations are on the back wall. I am the bystander in this collaboration but have found good inspiration for my own writing and thinking. This is “Fire” from the Four Elements series:


From A to Z series:


The Festival’s music program was superb this year.  The concerts are at nine and there are dinners afterwards, hence all the late nights.  This is a great time to visit Cortona. Check out the program. There are lectures, wine seminars, tango lessons, yoga classes, cooking classes–a great summer camp for grown-ups who want stimulating cultural activity.  Jeremy Irons performed with musicians in our intimate Teatro Signorelli, taking time out from filming The Borgias in Budapest. He played Chopin, and his wife, Sinead Cusack, played George Sand.

Thanks for the good wishes about our garden destroyed by hail.  It’s coming back and if you didn’t know what it usually looks like, you’d think it was fine! Hope all of you reading this are enjoying red, red tomatoes, cold watermelon, and peaches-and-cream corn!  (Except south of the equator, where I hope you’re enjoying all the pleasures of the cooler seasons.)