November 4, 2013

Roof: Finished — Olives: Picked

What made the roof so difficult?  The house is tall and perched way above the road.  The existing roof had to be removed tile by tile. With the good work of a gigantic crane and sturdy scaffolding, the brave and excellent craftsmen claimed a final victory on Friday. The roof is on. Long live the roof. Since the old one lasted 300 years, we’re expecting this one to last as long. Hard to fathom that someone that long in the future will contemplate the same work. Maybe by then, they wave a digital wand and it’s over. 

Most of the old tiles went right back on. A few damaged ones I will keep and make little votive spots in the garden. Renovating seems easy when you’re not doing any of the work yourself. In the previous renovation, I scrubbed grime from brick floors, Ed swayed on a tall ladder, refinishing beams, and for weeks we had flecks of whitewash in our hair. I miss the direct involvement a bit, but even the sight of the ladders up the scaffolding give me vertigo. Instead, the men are fearless and SO skilled. The architect pronounces the job “exceptional.” 

Now we move to the next chapter, the stabilization of the facade. Sergio’s men are lovingly patching the stucco, and two smart women–renaissance painting restorers–will work their magic on blending the colors on the patches to the rest of the smeary apricots, gold, and rose that time has given the house. If you look carefully, you see cracks on the left and a big patch of missing stucco on the right. Those will be seamlessly repaired, along with a lot of missing stucco hidden behind the lemon trees and in the upper corners. We risked losing the facade if we didn’t intervene.

Because of the additional weight of the new roof, we will have to run iron rods along the top of the interior walls all the way around the house. Not sure how I will blend those with the painted vines in my study and a bedroom.  These rods are attached outside to iron structures called “chiavi,” keys, in Italian, and in English “anchor plates.”   We are having Egisto, master blacksmith, make the eight keys that will attach to the upper eight corners of the house on the outside, tied to the rods inside.  He’s an artist. This was the first design but it proved to be too tall. Tomorrow, he’s coming with another sample. Bramasole will have his artistic keys as part of its permanent look.

One thing leads to another, of course, when you start renovating anything.  So we are meeting each day with carpenters, electricians, plumbers. A lot of things that have just slipped over twenty-four years will be updated, improved, repaired.  One major project is the shutters. They need work and repainting.  When I first saw the house, before I bought it, the shutters were faded green. When I came back the next year and bought the place, the owner had painted them brown.  Brown and park-bench green are THE approved colors of Tuscan shutters.  But I used at the mountain house another green, the color of the doors on San Domenico church, a heathery olive soft green.  Do I dare paint my shutters that color?

We’re most familiar with those greens right now, having just finished the olive harvest. We were so involved with the house project that Ed’s sister and her husband, along with four Italian men, did all the hard work and we just showed up at the mill to taste the first green-green oil, limpid and darker than in years, with the characteristic peppery taste and a tiny hint of sweetness that I don’t recall ever tasting before.  Immediately, we launched into bruschette for every meal, and dinners at which everyone compared their own oil to everyone else’s. From this corner of Tuscany, they’re all good!


Not so, in the wide world. Below is a photo behind our pristine mill. That mound of waste from the first pressing will be shipped off, pressed again with terrible solvents, and sold as “pure” olive oil.  The deep fruity fabulous oil is still inside the building!  Beware.  Great olive oil is the best gift for your kitchen.  Look for specific info on the label, and especially a harvest date.  Olive oil is subject to too few restrictions and you easily can pay way too much for a stinky product!  As a grower, I know that if it’s cheap, it’s cheap.  Not good. The cost of a grove and the harvest and the milling just cannot be a bargain.  But, really, great oil is a fabulous buy. You pay $30-40 for a restaurant wine, yes? It’s gone in an hour. That much for marvelous oil repays your feasts and fun a hundred time. If you’re traveling to Italy at this time of year, double-wrap in plastic bags and stash a few liters in your checked luggage.  For more info, check our


After the harvest, we escaped for a four-day r&r pass and drove down to Gargano, the spur of Puglia.  We stayed at Il Porto in Mattinata, where we looked out at a crescent of beach and an infinity pool that you wade into.

Way too chilly now but it sets me dreaming of a late June jaunt. Monte Sant’ Angelo, Vieste, Peschici–so charming these white, sugar-cube towns overlooking the sea, and vast olive groves running down stony hills to the water.  The bread is the best. We kept a loaf in the car and just ate hunks as we drove alone winding, empty coastal roads lined with wild pink cyclamen. Much of the area is a national park, great for hiking. I kept saying, “This is Greece.”  “This is north Africa,”  “This is Spain.” As I’ve written, probably more than once, Italy is endless.  Just five hours away from Cortona, the Gargano is another world. Its beaches invite long walks. The white villages meander and climb and everywhere there are sudden views of the Adriatic. When we go again, I’d like to hire a boat because secret blue coves are everywhere.  In summer, there must be hoards of people, but right now, if you go, you have it to yourself.  We didn’t encounter a handful of tourists. Along the road:

One of the most astonishing sights that I’ve ever seen–the walled olive terraces. The earth is so stony that these walls were made by picking up stones on the ground, building terraces, and carving out land for olive trees. The human labor involved staggers the imagination.

Beautiful steps between olive terraces:

We spent the last night north in the Marche in the seaside town of Grottammare, with a twisty medieval borgo above, and a town below replete with Liberty (Art Nouveau) villas along the seafront.

I love how invigorating a short trip can be. Four days seemed like ten. There are still so many new places to see in Italy, even after twenty-four years.

I’m walking every day. Hard to stay inside when the air is golden and the paths are littered with leaves in all the colors of autumn. People are always asking what the best time in Tuscany is. Ed is prone to saying, “January through December,” because he loves all the seasons. But, really, October is hard to top. The most consistent blissful weather. A few foggy, rainy days, but mostly munificent sun-drenched days and a fresh undercurrent to the balmy air.  I’m loving listening to audio books on my walks, though it can seem surreal to hear Edith Wharton’s HOUSE OF MIRTH as I wend my way through the wild chestnut forest.

Perfect travel weather, cooking weather, new-roof weather.

Last night I made a mountain of Pasta with Sausage and Four Cheeses. Two to take to families with losses, and one for us. On a crisp fall evening, this must be one of the best things one possibly could devour.  It’s in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. I highly recommend it for your fall gatherings. Tomorrow, I’m making the Apples in a Cage–pastry wrapped baked apples–because our two apple trees, after eight years, have seen fit to donate a couple of dozen super-crunchy, gnarled little specimens. We’re taking them to our friends Sheryl and Rob’s house, where we will discuss their desire for a new restoration project. Are they crazy?  Are we?  After a few glasses of Tuscan Sun Wines, I surely the answer becomes clear!

And those fall gatherings at your house–I hope they are plentiful and fun. A marvelous season! Enjoy every leaf that flutters by your window!  Love your comments; keep in touch.