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 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Garden In October Sun

I often get asked if I would like to have a greenhouse, so that I would be able to garden throughout the year.  When I see greenhouses kept by other gardeners I must admit in the cold of February it is nice to enter and see things growing.

I like the notion of a greenhouse, but I have to say no, I really do not want a greenhouse.
James and I both agree that we enjoy gardening in spring, summer and into the fall, but then it is over for a year.
Benches and pots get put away or covered. Hoses are coiled and stored away with tools in the shed. The gardens get cleaned up and cut back once the plants have spent all their energy for the season.

This year October has been beautiful and there has not been a frost yet, so I am still able to cut small bouquets for the house. Extending the garden season this late into October is a treat, but soon a frost will bring an end to the nasturtiums, and the other tender plants.
The lemon trees have returned to their sunny place in the house and the figs will find a dark place in the basement to spend the winter. 

Most of the geraniums and begonias are inside, and will be repotted and put back in the garden next season.

There are still a variety of herbs, parsley, sage, chives, thyme and tarragon, in the garden, and one or another get used on a daily basis in our kitchen.  An omelette  we made for lunch today made good use of the chives and tarragon. The rosemary came back into the atrium yesterday. Pots of herbs are kept in our kitchen window to use over the winter and I will plant paper whites and amaryllis......thats about the extend of our winter gardening.
But, if we did have a greenhouse, think of the guilt factor, we would spend far too much time in there and our studios would be vacant!

With winter coming closer and the days growing shorter and darker here in New Hampshire it is time to close up the garden and spend more time in our studios
This is the view from my studio window.....not a bad place to spend the winter.

 Our days will now be spent in our studios and when early darkness falls we will be in the kitchen cooking and yes we will think about next seasons garden.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Last evening, as the sun was setting the top of the Shagbark Hickory was highlighted by the sun.
It is quite a grand tree, it reminds me of a tree in a George Inness painting.
Well, anyways, just a look at some of the autumn color here in New Hampshire on this Columbus Day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


James and I had been wanting to make a trip up to Anghiari (Tuscany) to the Busatti Factory for several years, and, at last this past spring we set out on a day trip from Panicale, after cappuccini at Bar Gallo, with our visiting friends Debbie and Jim.

Busatti tessuti

Here it is, the Busatti factory, a destination that we finally reached, OH ! What a glorious sight it was to see the BUSATTI sign. A thought crossed my mind.....Yikes, what if it is closed? Which can happen in Italy.  But, to our good fortune they were open!!


 Walking through the door you find a shop that is filled, and I do mean filled with Busatti fabric, bolts stacked proud, shelf upon shelf.

Throughout the shop there are tables set with fine Busatti  tablecloths and napkins. There are also "rooms" with beds draped and pillowed with beautiful duvet covers, coverlets, shams, and of course,  I wanted to buy it all!!!

But we came on a mission. Our goal was to buy enough of a particular fabric for our dining room window panels. It is a golden cloth we purchased about ten years ago at the Busatti shop in Arezzo. James has used many times in his paintings, but the piece he has, and continues to use, does have its share of paint stains on it!

North Wind Clearing
James Aponovich
oil on canvas

Here is the cloth that we are hoping Busatti still makes....that is why we are here.
Easy to forget our mission when surrounded by so many beautiful fabrics.

And then there was a subtle noise that grew louder in another show room.
Debbie and I wondered, Hmmmm, was that the sound of the factory looms?


There was a kind woman helping us in our quest. As luck would have it, Debbie had an image on her phone of one of the paintings James did that included the fabric. YAY!
Yes, they still made the fabric. The thing about Busatti fabric is it very wide. We ordered what we needed and we had it shipped.

Still curious about the factory, I asked , and our kind sales person  who then offered us a tour.

The fabric, wool, linen, hemp and cotton are woven on shuttle looms that are over  a century old.
Busatti / Sassolini families have been making fabrics here since 1847.

One of the weavers carefully tying ends of this blue and white cloth.

We all found this fascinating, the way the threads were being fed to the loom. Jim noticed the brown paper like thing hanging on the right of the loom and asked about them. Seems these rolls have a series of punctures which are a "pattern code" for the particular fabric that is being created on the shuttle loom. Each Busatti fabric has one of these pattern code rolls. Think about a player piano and the rolls that make the music, and you will understand how these pattern codes work.

There was a hallway filled with boxes of these colorful spools of thread for weaving these incredible woven fabrics.

Still life with spools!
If they had these for sale in the store I would have bought a few!

James and I couldn't get enough of these. The colors were so pure and fanciful.

The part of the factory was small, basement like, at least the part we visited. We imagined a much larger operation. We were glad to have seen these remarkable looms and watch a person passing the shuttle through the threads to create the patterns.

As we were leaving the factory we passed a room with bolts of tagged fabrics.
I just liked the way all of these bolts looked.

Back upstairs to the quiet to the shop, those shuttle looms do make quite a rumble, might even say thunderous!

One of the tablecloths in the shop, that was part of a table setting.

I stopped to buy a few napkins, how could I resist?

We said goodbye and headed out for a quick look at Anghiari and for some lunch.


Anghiari is also known because of Leonardo Da Vinci. There was a battle fought  here in 1440.
There are several drawing by Leonardo ( 1505) of this battle, and it is thought by some that he did a painting of it. "The Lost Leonard" of The Battle of Anghiari, might be in the Palazzo Vecchio, on Florence, on a wall that was covered over and a fresco then painted in 1563 by Vasari.
It remains an art mystery.

It was only a few days after we arrived home to New Hampshire that a box arrived from Busatti.

Our fabric arrived. It is perfectly beautiful. Now, we must have it made into curtains for our dining room.

Via Mazzini 14

Busatti has shops throughout Italy and around the world.

Friday, September 5, 2014


James on the Juliet Balcony In Panicale
( photo: S. Vreeland)

I have been after James to begin a new blog, and now he has.
He linked in to the idea that where we live in  Peterborough, New Hampshire and where we "live" in Panicale, Umbria are both on the 43rd Parallel, the same latitude.

His blog starts with both places, Peterborough, NH and Panicale, Italy, where he will explore the similarities and differences living and painting in two towns and ocean apart.

Here is the link:
Aponovich 43 / Parallel Lives : A Transatlantic Journal

Follow along and see where he takes us all!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Siena, Il Duomo.... a Thin Place

Lately I have been thinking and writing about 'thin places' and
 have come to recognize these more and more in life.

A thin place is  said to be  a place where heaven and earth meet, there are no boundaries.
Although a thin place does not have to be a sacred place yet when in Siena, James and I always
visit Il Duomo ( Santa Maria Assunta) and for for each of us it is a place where heaven and earth come together.

The Cathedral (1245) is built on the highest point in Siena over what was an early church dedicated to  the goddess Minerva. The facade of the Duomo is dazzling, but it is when I enter through the doors, in from the sunlight and suddenly find myself standing in  the low lit interior that I am captivated by the scale and space of it all.

The 13th Century Pulpit by Nicola Pisano is a masterpiece . Walking into the side chapels and alters there are words of art by the later Renaissance artists, Michelangelo, Donatello, Bernini, Pisano and Pinturiccio that should be taken note of as they add to the complexity of the Cathedral.

The alternating black and white horizontal  pattern of the interior has such magnificence and ones eyes are carried  far upward to the golden stars on the blue ceiling. Light passes softly through the
window, the radiance pulls our eyes and  feet forward while the Duomo wraps around you, time collapses and you become absorbed in the power of the place.
It is humbling.

A Gian Lorenzo Bernini gold gilded lantern tops the star filled dome .
James wondered how many children must have looked up and thought that God was really up there. Right there.
But,  they must have wondered,"how can you swim in air, how can you get there?"
It seems so frustratingly impossible....I guess that was "the churches point", they will provide the "ladders".

Vasari, in referring to the mind boggling Duomo floor said, " the most beautiful, largest and most magnificent that was ever made."
The marble intarsia and graffito that covers the floor was created from the 24th-16th Centuries by the hands of 40 artists.
I  get absorbed in looking I often forget to take photos, so you will just have to go see this for yourself, it is a remarkable piece of artwork that you will find yourself walking upon.

A visit here requires time. Time just to walk through the rising black and white columns, time to walk into  the side chapels and to light a candle as you thin about someone you love. Sit back where it is quiet and feel the calm and the place.

The Cathedral was meant to be larger, as a matter of fact the plan was for it to be the largest Cathedral ever built.  However, in 1348 The Black Death's toll on the population of Siena was devastating, it is thought that 75% of the population died from the plague. How did they ever recover to become once again a vibrant city?
Work on the Cathedral stopped when the plaque swept the city and was never restarted although what was started still stands, almost as a memorial.

Siena is Medieval, you see it in the architecture and you feel it to the bone as you walk through its narrow streets.

Siena has endured the misery of battles, financial troubles and plague.
The Duomo rises high up from Siena looking illustrious and strong.


For information  click on :  Siena Duomo

The magnificent floor of the Duomo often has sections roped off of covered
But from August 18 -October 27 2014
the entire floor will be uncovered.

More on Siena's Duomo in future blog posts.