Sunday, March 15, 2015


James and I are often asked why we return to the same place when we go to Italy. The answer would center around a feeling of being at home when we are in Panicale.
It has much to do with the  kind and welcoming people of here. And clearly, for the food, the wine, friends and the art  bring us back year to year.
In other words, we are captivated by this place.

There it is, Panicale, rising up from the top of the hill, it's narrow streets follow a distinctive elliptical spiral layout from the main piazza up to the bell tower of the Podesta at the height of Panicale, where the view is out to Lake Trasimeno. The colors... you just do not find these colors on buildings in New England, this, my friends, is right out of a Medieval or even Renaissance painting.
 Walking through the streets, if one is observant they will see evidence that the Etruscans were here inhabiting this hill top .
Much later, sometime in 1300, Panicale was decreed a commune and a walled town established then and on into the Renaissance......but is a Medieval hill town, and one of the most beautiful in Umbria.

James and I walk through these complex arches several times each day since they are not far from our front door, stopping to sketch on occasion, but the perspective is challenging, to say the least. Talk about  finding the is evident all around.

 Not far down this street is Teatro Caporali.....Panicale boasts this charming teatro based on a grand opera house. I adore sitting in those little boxes ringing the theatre and listening to music or watching a performance. It' dream like!

The textures of Italy are so varied by the age they were constructed and the building materials that were available in the area, stone, brick, terracotta roof tiles, and stucco are all in evidence.  I find here that people use what is available locally and seasonally, it is an ethic as well as tradition.  As for food, if it is artichoke season, then we eat artichokes, if it is porcini season, then porcini mushrooms are on the table in some form.

Within the old wall of the town you will find small gardens everywhere, including hanging on walls.
There are homes that have outdoor spaces for eating, drying laundry and a garden, but space is tight, so residents here make use of every avaialble space. I  love peeking through gates and over fences at the hidden gardens where roses and wisteria spill over walls.


Spring is artichoke season....a great reason to visit Italy during these months!
Then there will be wild asparagus, and we hope that Katia brings us some this year again!
Strawberries, fave beans and peas will follow.
Umbria is agricultural, so most all this is grown right here. If you ask, was this grown here, they will apologize and say no, in Macchie ( which is the next town over)!

At the Tavernelle outdoor market, a Monday morning must, James is buying some very thin Sardinan bread and a salami. Believe me, if they had porchetta he would be buying that too! He will get that , the porchetta, back in Panicale at the macelleria.

We do most of our marketing right in Panicale.There is a greengrocer, bottega, macelleria and a forno.
Like most towns in Umbria, and most regions of Italy, each town has it's own small shops to do marketing. James and I love shopping like this, where we find ourselves going to the market just about everyday to buy what we need for that days meals. We can also practice our Italian, which the proprietors kindly help us with! They are very patient.

The town has a few good restaurants including our favorites - Masolino's  a old favorite of ours. There is also  the newer and good, Osteria Il Gallo Nel Pozzo .

Panicale sits high and looks over the Umbrian plain to Lago Trasimeno, the scene of a long ago battle of Hannibal over the Romans. That aside, this is a view I never grow tired of. Perugino would often put Lago Trasimeno in his distant landscape, when painting a Nativity, or a tribute to some Saint. There is a fresco  of St. Sebastian, by Perugino, in Panicale that includeds the lake as landscape. James uses this same landscape, "come Perugino" ( like Perugino) in his still life paintings with this exact Umbrian landscape.

It is evident that this is agricultural land with the patterns of crops and plowed fields.

These fields are ever changing as the spring progresses towards summer, at times they the rich green, other patches of field are bright yellow, and then come the red poppies! The lake can appear as a beautiful blue green, at times  a somber gray, and then shift to a nearly tropical green.

Now, time to is important here.
Thank goodness!

Pasta with Cinghiale ragu *

It's about 1:30 time to start thinking about sitting down for lunch. I cannot resist pasta, here a bowl of handmade pasta with cinghiale ( wild boar) ragu at Il Casale, just outside the neighboring town of Paciano. A favorite lunch place.....plan for a long relaxed lunch here, and on a nice day, sit outside.

OK. Here is a big reason why we return to Panicale......Bar Gallo, also known as 'Aldo's'.
It is owned and run by Aldo and Daniele, and each morning we begin the day with," Buongiorno Daniele, Ciao Aldo, " and they respond in kind, then we ask for....
"due cappuccini , per favore!"

Bar Gallo is the heart of Panicale, everyone goes here for caffe, later for a light bite and prosecco and before dinner an apertivo. Aldo and Daniele know the area and  has offered us good advice on places to go to draw/ paint,  out of the way, offbeat places that we would have not found ourselves. Aldo has also given us great tips on places to Il Casale.

Great signage!

A good landscape to paint.

ci vediamo a presto!

See you soon!
Beautiful Panicale.

* My thanks to Debbie D. for the  great photo of the bowl of pasta, and thanks to Jim M. for ordering it and his patience in allowing the photo to be taken before he took his first bite!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


 Montefalco is old. Old not in the sense of  deterioration or frailty, but old in its earned stature of having a long history predating the time in the early Middle Ages when it was known as Coccorone, continuing through Roman occupation when in 1249 it was sacked by Frederick II.  The town was rebuilt and in the 13th Century became a free commune, until it came under Papal rule in 1449, where it continued until recent history with the unification of Italy in 1861.

Montefalco is often referred to as "the balcony of Umbria" having beautiful views across the Umbrian plain. Walking through the narrow stone streets of the town you are easily transported back to the Medieval days, where one can imagine life as it was then lived. In fact, Umbrian hill towns all attest to a similar history and endurance. Much has happened here over the centuries, and as you spend time here you get a sense of that continuing longevity and in part a testament to why Italy is so beguiling. Italy envelops you.

We came to Montefalco for three things, art, food and wine.The Church of San Francesco dates to 1335, and has an important fresco cycle painted by Benozzo Gozzoli . Gozzoli was commissioned to paint a fresco cycle of  the Life of St. Francis. He painted this from 1450-52, in a narrative of 19 significant events from his life, beginning with his birth.
Here in this chapel we are alone. This fresco cycle painted with the masterful hand and carefully composed narration of the life of St. Francis by Gozzoli brings us from Medieval into the Renaissance.

Just a note....The Church of San Francesco ( deconsecrated)  is now operated by the town and is
 called Museo Civico San Francesco.

In the above panel Gozzoli  portrays, for the first time St. Francis wearing the familiar brown habit with the rope belt, signifying his devotion and call to a life of poverty, having given up a life of wealth. It is here in this panel the narrative shows us St. Francis meeting St. Dominic  (1215) in Rome. It is said to be Rome due to the obelisk's depiction in the painting. For anyone who has visited Rome, you know that obelisks are all over the place!

Gozzoli uses the architecture (of the Renaissance) along with the figures not only to convey the story of St. Francis, but to create composition. He is incorporating perspective, line, and color to make this fresco cycle visually exciting.

There is one panel depicting St. Francis' Blessing of the Birds ( no photo, sorry), where Gozzoli places St. Francis in an Umbrian landscape and in the distance is Monte Subasio,  the Monastery at Assisi, Montefalco and the small village of Bevagna. I did not count, but was told that there are 13 kinds of birds in this panel including a swan, pheasant, raven , thrush and of course, the ever present magpie.

Piertro Perugino ( Pietro Vannucci)
The Nativity, 1503

The Church of San Francesco also has a fresco by Umbrian painter, Il Perugino.
Perugino is Umbria's "favorite son", I guess that's fair to say. Here The Nativity is painted with an Umbrian landscape in the background that is centered on Lake Trasimeno. The familiar Lake Trasimeno is often seen in a Perugino painting and it is the view that James and I see from Panicale.

The Nativity ( detail)


Time for lunch. When we mentioned we were going over to Montefalco for the day it was unanimous by all that we should have lunch at L'Alchemista.  We had a leisurely lunch and the food was excellent, so much so that I did not take any photos ( at least I will blame it on that). We were with friends so we were probably just talking too much, and eating to remember pictures! L'Alchemista goes on our list of places to return to. We each had a glass of a different Sangrantino, a unique and splendid local red wine. This being an enoteca, James selected a bottle to take back to the house to have some evening with dinner.
Somehow our day trips to see art always end up with a good lunch included.

Selection, yes...... a good selection and the proprietors are happy to assist with a recommendation, if you'd like.

After lunch we walked around town. There is a linen shop, Pardi, on the Corso Mameli, that I wanted to stop into
 but it was still closed for the afternoon. Next time.

The last stop we decided to make while in Montefalco was to a vineyard.  That morning,while James and I were having cappuccino at Bar Gallo, both Aldo and Daniela suggested
 we visited Arnaldo Caprai vineyard. 

Here we learned more about Sagrantino wine. We knew that it was once considered a religious or sacramental, contemplative wine, but we also found that the story goes that...
 Pliny the Elder, 1st century aC wrote in his texts of the Itriola grape, the one that Sagrantino is made from, likely originating from Asia Minor and transported here by Pilgrims.
Now that's pretty old!

We drink Sagrantino when we are in Italy due to the fact that the production is small, and not widely available outside Italy. This is an Umbrian wine and only a handful towns  that include Montefalco, Bevegna and Spello can grow and produce Sagrantino. Often it is Sagrantino Rosso that we buy, but sometimes we will splurge on a bottle of Montefalco di Sagrantino, and for a bigger splurge a bottle of Sagrantino Passito. Passito was the first Sagrantino I tried when several years ago James had read about it and bought a bottle. It was completely heavenly.

The Umbrian landscape from Caprai vineyard......stunning.

Bella Umbria.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Baroque Splendor in Rome : Chiesa Sant' Ignazio


When I think of the Renaissance, I think of Florence. Rome brings to mind the ancient world and the Baroque. The Chiesa Sant' Ignazio Loyola is a triumph of Baroque architecture and art and to it say pulls out all the stops does not even begin to explain its grandeur. I question whether there is a square  inch of space in the interior that is not carved, gilded, painted or decorated in some fashion. The scale of the interior is monumental, yet it is not heavy in feel, rather it is uplifting. At times these large churches and cathedrals are designed to dominate us with their imposing size and power, but I never feel that here, rather, I am mesmerized by the frescoed ceiling.
James took the above photo of the interior and if you look hard you will see a lone figure, that's me standing in the center aisle under Pozzo's 'dome'. And, by the way, this is Rome, where are the crowds?

The soaring  frescoed ceiling of the nave and apse of Sant'Ignazio  are a masterpiece of perspective
by the artist Andrea Pozzo.  Standing directly beneath it you see it from one point of view, walk to the center of he church aisle, turn and walk slowly back to the point beneath it, you will see that it changes.  Note the painted corner columns and the figures, as you draw closer , the artist is manipulating what we see with his use of perspective and cast shadows. It is stunning....and hurts the brain a little!

 Clouds and sky appear as you stand below. The figures seemingly continue to ascend beyond the confines of the physical building. Just look at everyone flying around, there is nothing static here, it's wild and without restraint.

The Jesuit church was designed by a jesuit mathematician Orazio Grassi  ( with Carlo Maderno) in 1626 to celebrate the canonization of Sant'Ignatius Loyola. Artist Andrea Pozzo was commissioned to paint The Triumph of St. Ignatius on the ceiling of the church, as well as paint a trompe l'oeil  cupola and dome, for funds had run out to construct a dome. Again, like Pozzo's fresco, the dome is a remarkable example of trompe l'oeil, or fool the eye. The dome is painted on flat canvas that is 17m across. From given points of view, a three dimensional interior of a dome comes into being, walk away and peer back and it collapses.
How did he do this???
No need for 3-D glasses here, it's all for the naked eye to see.

At times it is difficult to separate reality from painting. This is Baroque theatre at some of its finest, although Rome does offer many opportunities to witness Baroque splendor and drama, this remains on our list of must see Baroque churches, although there are a few others that tromp this one, but I will save those for another post. A hint though....Bernini and Borromini are the architects.

Back to the story... In comparison to Sant' Ignazio is The Gesu, also a Jesuit church which provides similar theatre, and is not too far from Sant' Ignazio. The Baroque is always pushing outside of the confines of a frame or here the confines or walls and ceiling, it knows no bounds.

The angel ( in red) appears to be suspended in air, and I suppose with wings that is possible, yet one foot rests on a wall.... or appears to anyway. This is a 3-D mind teaser. It is hard to remember this is all paint and we are at the mercy of this playful artists hand - where does the real stop  and the art begin. It can be quite perplexing and all the while astonishing.

Then, when you just cannot look up any longer, step out the front doors and into the Piazza di Sant' Ignazio for a continuation of Baroque theatre.

James and I both agree that this is one of our favorite piazzas in Rome, The Baroque-Rocco buildings were also commissioned by the Jesuits about one hundred years after the church. They are elegant with their convex and concave facades creating visual movement. Again, the Baroque is always a lively dance.

All this is a terrific experience, but our necks ache from all the looking up and our brains are full from thinking about Pozzo's mind-boggling use of perspective games. Is it time to sit down for coffee,James say yes!
Caffe Sant' Eustachio is close by. Ready to eat? Armando al Pantheon is probably out since we didn't reserve. A coffee first, then a walk over to Orso 80 for antipasti. or better yet, some quick shopping at Campo dei Fiori market and head home for lunch. Perfect!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Postcard From New Hampshire

Mid January can be really dreary. There are days when the cloud cover creates a gray landscape without a hint of color to delight our eyes.
But, there are days, usually cold, that the clarity of the azure blue skies allows the sun to shine brightly down to the earth adding color to the landscape. These are the days, that despite the cold, are beautiful with the sun low in the sky, the trees cast long blue violet shadows across the light snow cover.
Soon the apple trees will be pruned in preparation for the spring blossoms and late summer apples.

Best wishes everyone as we look to spring.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015 ... from New Hampshire

May the New Year bring joy, good health, peace, and prosperity to all.
Thank you for following along with us here at home in New Hampshire and our adopted "home" of Panicale, Italy, in our search for art, food, wine and gardens on both sides of the ocean.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Italy Notebooks
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
oil on canvas, 16" x 13"

James and I had to wait to travel, due to many things  that include time, money, family, work and other obstacles that life threw in our path. I suppose when it comes to those things we are not unlike most people. When we finally had the opportunity to travel, it was to Italy in the mid 1990's, James was asked to do a painting with an Italian landscape. It was with good fortune that I , along with our daughter were able to join  him. It didn't take long before we fell in love with Italy.

We had  no expectations and very little time to plan and prepare for the  first trip, so, when a decade later we once again were able to travel to Italy, we planned the trip carefully, and learned some Italian which on the first trip we were completely ignorant about.

I began to keep notebooks. The pages of these blank notebooks start to fill long before we step onto a transatlantic flight. James and I plan out the places we hope to visit and from there the journey begins.....on paper.

Knowing the opening and closing times of places in Italy is important if you do not want to find a locked door at a church that holds a masterpiece that you have traveled an hour to see. We sadly learned this after finding a few locked doors ourselves. Although, just because you arrive at a place at a posted open time, don't be surprised if there is no entry allowed due to the fact that the church or museum  floor  is being waxed, or there is a film crew inside! That has happened to us on more than one occasion.

There is much about food in these notebooks, along with art, food is at the top of our list when we are in Italy ( I could say it is always at the top of our list). If I read about a good restaurant or osteria from a reliable source, or someone recommends a place where they had a delicious meal I always make note of it.

I always carry a notebook and a sketchbook, as does James, and sometimes they are one and the same.
Ideas of things seen are sketched in. I  made this quick sketch while at the garden of Villa Aurelia, a grand garden that is on the grounds of The American Academy in Rome. A large grid pattern with alternating lemon trees was in a large open courtyard just outside the villa.
This idea came back with us to our New Hampshire garden where we used a similar grid with boxwood....heartier for a New England climate. James began  constructing this  new garden, known as the "Aurelian Garden", at our house in New Hampshire. Keep in mind it was was exactly one month prior to our garden being part of the Garden Conservancy Open Days, I said, " Don't start something you can't finish." Well, he did complete it, with the help of his brother , about 24 hours before the tour visitors arrived!
So much for ideas sketched in a notebook!

Winters are for reading, often about places we plan to visit. We select an artist to follow, this notebook prepared us for the Benozzo Gozzoli trail, which took us to
 places like Montefalco (Umbria), San Gimignano and Florence. Italy provides us with the unique opportunity to see a fresco or painting that is in situ, or in the place where the artist painted it, such as a chapel. Gozzoli frescoed the walls of the Medici chapel ( in the Medici Riccardi Palazzo), Florence. The story of The Procession of the Magi  (1459) is breathtaking and to stand there studying it, under the same ceiling where it was painted is a remarkable experience. The chapel, tiny yet made so exquisite by the masterful eye and hand of this gifted Renaissance artist.
Without my notebook, we may have missed it, walked right past the Palazzo, or worse yet, gone on its closing day!

Olive Trees, Panicale
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
watercolor on paper

We often spend our days in Panicale, drawing and painting, marketing, cooking and eating.
See, as I told you, food always gets into the picture!
This watercolor sketch Olive Trees, Panicale, a hillside orchard, often filled with sheep, that is visible from where we stay.
The pages of my notebook also contain short essays about this enchanting place and it's people.
It's a love story.

Piazza Margherita, Panicale
Elizabeth Johansson Aponovich
pencil on paper

I am captivated by these buildings and this view, I think I have drawn it three or four times, and James has as well. I drew this a few years ago and I still have distinct memory of drawing the place....the buildings, the wires, the cast shadows from the roof, the landscape in the distance.....the things I drew and the things left out.

 The Italian Lesson....
As I said, our first visit to Italy left us literally speechless. We did not know or understand a word of Italian, so we missed out on a lot of things. We spend hours trying to get a bus from Florence to Lucca because of the language barrier......shame on us.
So now, during the winter months we study Italian and when we are in Umbria we have also taken classes and last year dear Katia gave us lessons. in Panicale, people often kindly correct us or teach us new words and phrases.....very helpful.
All this goes into notebooks and hopefully our brains!

 Vendita Diretta
We kept seeing a sign with these words, Vendita Diretta. I wrote it down and asked what it meant......'To Buy Direct', as in wine, olive oil, pecorino,  directly from the farm or vineyard. Now, we know and we stop at places with this sign to purchase wine and cheese. Fun!

 OK., so here it is the  2015 Italy Notebook...................
what will I fill it with? I already have a few restaurants and a agriturismo to enter on to its pages.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Simple Pleasures of a Farm Stand.....

It's harvest time here in New Hampshire. I can't help but think that it is nature's way of not only providing a feast of food for our plates, but also a great burst of color that is a feast for the eyes. As we slide into the monochromatic gray of winter the autumn colors fade in to all but our memories.

One of our favorite farm stands is Lull Farm in Hollis, New Hampshire. James and I have been going there for decades, I dare say. When our daughter was in kindergarten I went on an apple picking field trip with  her class to Lull Farm. Her bag of apples had as many apple leaves as it did apples and before we could eat them, those leaves with apples attached became the subject for one of James' paintings.
In June, I would take Ana strawberry picking, she loves strawberries, so James would joke that they should weigh her before and after and charge us for the amount she ate while in the field. All the many strawberries that made it to her mouth instead of the box. " They look so good!" she would say to excuse herself.
Like the tomatoes grown here in the summer, the variety of apples grown here is amazing, from the classics to wonderful heirlooms. Thanks, Farmer Dave!

These rows of sunflowers remind us of  similar scenes in Umbria and Tuscany.....but we learned that sunflowers are indigenous to the USA.

It was a surprise to see Romanesco broccoli filling  baskets here as I had never seen this crop outside of Italy. When in Rome, we shop at the Campo dei Fiori open air market for our vegetables, and often find things we don't find here in New England.

Today, at the farm stand a head of Romanesco goes into my shopping basket.  James has an idea for a pasta dish that will feature this crazy looking  head of broccoli, or is it cauliflower....supported by garlic, anchovies, swiss chard, red pepper flakes all tossed in our superb Umbrian olive oil.
Perfect.....we like big flavor! We add garlic and swiss chard to the basket, and suddenly we have dinner for tonight. This is our kind of fun!

In Rome, zucchini flowers are a common sight at the Campo dei  Fiori market (above) in the late spring, fried and stuffed they are heavenly. This is one of those recipes we have not yet  fully conquered, but if they are on a restaurant menu we always order them. Maybe next summer I will find zucchini flowers here at the farm.

  Meanwhile, back here in New Hampshire...... Bushel baskets filled with white sweet potatoes, Japanese yams, classic yams, garnet yams....who knew?
So many farm grown varieties to choose from, all the vegetables and fruits with so many named varieties, it really is hard to choose, and for us easy to fill our basket so full that my arm is aching and I must hand it over to James. Why didn't we take a cart?  Anyways, on our last shopping trip we bought two types of yams and used them along with other root vegetables with a roasted chicken, our Sunday dinner. Since we cook each day it is easy for James and I to sample all these wonderful gifts of the harvest.......a simple pleasure.

But beyond food, the harvest also supplies these classic pumpkins.

Pumpkins that soon will be transformed into Jack-O-Lanterns for
All- Hallows-Eve.
 Before we get to Halloween, let's look at the amazing variety of pumpkins that  call out to us, the reds, orange, tan, and green pumpkins, mind boggling! Pumpkins with stripes and pumpkins with warts. Pumpkins big and pumpkins small, even sugar pumpkins for pies.
Really, how does one choose?

.....and then there is this way-too-big- monster of a pumpkin!

When you think you have found the perfect pumpkin, "Wait! don't pick it up by it's stem!".....didn't anyone ever tell you that!!!!

Back to Halloween for a moment and a few facts before we start eating the candy. Halloween proceeds the Christian holy day named All Saints Day, a day to remember dead Saints ( I didn't know there were any living saints). Some speculate that this day originated as a Celtic pagan feast to honor the dead and perhaps a harvest celebration as well.

The Christian All Saints Day was a time of abstinence from meat. People dined on apples, squash, potato pancakes, fruits and vegetables in general as well as soul cakes.

"A soul, a soul, a soul cake
Please good Missis a soul cake
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry"

A traditional song  for the day following All- Hallows -Eve.
( remember Peter, Paul and Mary's version?)

 The eve of All Saints Day, Halloween is the delightful and spooky, every child's dream holiday given
the chance to dress up as a ghost or princess, a pirate or a cat perhaps. It is a magical day filled with imagination, wonder, candy and carved pumpkins.
A simple pleasure is choosing the perfect pumpkin to take home for that all important Jack-O-Lantern that will sit on the porch  lit up to greet all  of those costumed trick-or-treaters that will come a knocking on the door on Halloween.


Oh! and yes,

live free and farm