December 21, 2018

I’m hereby “launching” this blog by sending the address to loads of people.  Having just re-read my writing to date, I apologize for a few typos, e.g. Mt. “Amiata” and others.

I’ve been back in the US for two weeks exactly — meaning to write a few words about the vicissitudes of transtatlantic air travel.  Now, many would say, and correctly so, that I’m darned lucky to spend time in Rome and to be able fly back and forth.  A real jet-setter.  I agree.

But that doesn’t keep me from complaining...

First, there’s the awful Hilton Rome Airport Hotel.   We choose it because it’s so easy to walk from the hotel room across a pedestrian bridge to the departure gate.  The receptionist at the “Hilton Honors” desk took her officious self to the task of handing over a “free” plastic bottle of water.  With her pancake makeup, scarlet lipstick and chiclet teeth, her arrogance is an amazing way to greet Hilton’s loyal customers.  Her evil twin is a waitress in the breakfast room, where they have mounds of food service food (alla Sysco) for a mere $11. per person. I complained to her about the push button coffee (it’s Italy after all) and asked her to make me a cup of proper espresso.  Then I proceeded to filch a couple of cardboard rolls and mandarin oranges for my plane ride. I placed them in a small bag.  It was a furtive dream “signora, divieto di portarevia il cibo, per ragione di sicurezza,”  “Mam. you can’t take away food from here, for reasons of security.”  STOP THIEF!  Can’t believe it.

Then, there’s PANTS ON FIRE!  I was admiring a red merino sweater with white pearl buttons in the Benetton store in the Duty Free Mall in the airport — Benetton being one of the few sort of moderately priced stores therein.  An American couple came roaring up to the clerk, holding onto sweat pants “We have to get out of our jeans, they won’t let us board the plane.”  So they raced to the dressing room, changed pants, threw down the credit card and ran off “we’re gonna miss the plane, we’re gonna miss….”  Turns out that BECAUSE THEY WERE WEARING JEANS  Alitalia wasn’t letting them board into business class. The Benetton clerk told me this “FIRE DRILL” about jeans is commonplace.  That they also have restrictions about shoes — maybe no flip flops.  I can’t find anything about these rules on the Alitalia website.

I bought the red sweater for Christmas!!! Love it!


As I’ve mentioned, I love learning Italian — it’s a BIG focus for me when I’m in residence.

And I’ve written my first story — first published here, just for you.  For those of you who read Italian, please forgive me my errors, of which there are many.  Dani, my lovely Italian teacher, helped me, but I think we didn’t catch every goof!  If you don’t read Italian, you can look at my drawings of Peonia (Peony) the hen turkey and Beffi (la Befana) the good witch who rescues Peony from BECOMING the SURE centerpiece of Thanksgiving Dinner.  Thanks for reading me.

Peonia e Beffi la Befana

 Il giorno del Ringraziamento si stava avvicinando.

Una coppia, dovendo stringere le cinture e evitare l’avido macellaio, va nel campo all allevamento di tacchini. Selezionanno una bella tachinella, con piume bianche magnifiche e un petto  grassoccio in abbondanza.

Sognando la loro cena del Ringraziamento, ricchissima con tacchino arrosto, loro mettonno la bellissima tacchinella didietro la loro Fiat Panda.  Tornanno a casa loro.

Ma, stare in macchina non piace alla tacchinella, di nome Peonia.  Molta paura.  Manca d’amiche! Comincia a piangere.  Grida, grida! Aiuto! Si  arrabbia anche il marito perche Peonia sporca tanto- con cacca e piume– la sua bella macchina.

Arrivati a casa con l’uccello furiosamente gridante, loro, vivendo al piano secondo, sono andati su. Il marito, di nome Bob,  prende una corda rossa bella e fissa Peonia alla terrazza.  Dove sono bellissime le viste di Monte Cetona, Monte Amiata e Cortona – e dove i fiori  rossi bellissimi fiorirono.

Ma la povera Peonia non smette  di gridare, piu e piu forte.  La tacchinella sa che la fine si sta avvicinando. Sa che nessun presidente Americano non va a perdonarla.  Pericolo!  Grida! Grida!  Constantemente!

Al primo piano della casa, vive un nuovonato di nome Giacomo.  Le gride lo svegliano e lo fanno molto nervoso.  Lui anche comincia a piangere.  Peonia e Giacomo urlano insieme.  Nella casa, nessun dorma.  Ma la buona Beffi la Befana sente il grande rumore.  Lei vive nella selva oscura vicina.

Arriva silenziosamente la Beffi e libera la Peonia.  Volanno insieme, tornanno nella selva e vivonno felicemente insieme per sempre.

E alla vigilia di ogni Giorno del Ringraziamento, loro volanno insieme e fanno visita a tutti i bimbi nel vicinato. Loro regalanno una carota e una zucchina, accompagnate di un rotolo di carta con il detto:  “Mangiate verdure!”

Ecco come sono diventata vegeteriana. Cosi e la morale di questa storia di Peonia e Beffi.

Carolyn McConnell

Dic.  2018

Grazie tantissimo a Daniela del Buono, la mia Maestra


Note that Peonia has beautiful purple toes, she’s just back from her pedicure.


Here is my Christmas card with my drawing of the gingko leaf from San Giorgio Island.  The calligraphy mine as well.






December 5, 2018. photos

I’m in the palazzo (palace) in Paciano on wreath-hanging day.  It’s the wedding arbor with a view over green Umbria.  The ivy creeper has turned red in December on the “palazzo” belonging to the Buitoni (pasta and perugina chocolates now owned by nestle) family.  The ladies in the photo are friends, enjoying coffee.  The dark haired lady is my Italian teacher, Dani.   On the left is Lia, the baker.  On the right is Leslie, American, long-time resident here.  “chiacchieriamo” that’s what we’re doing — gossiping, chatting, having a good old time!IMG_8109.jpgIMG_8103.jpgIMG_0754.jpgIMG_8111IMG_8115IMG_8117

December 5, 2018

Venice   Our little hotel, the Hotel Giudecca, stands beside a tiny canal bridge on the residential island of Giudecca, far away from the San Marco crowds, but just a short vaporetto (boat) ride away to all the action.  The hotel is quite correct, the neighborhood is quiet and the price was good in  mid-November — 49.00 Euro a night before breakfast (about $54.). However the wind off the Adriatic howled through the tiny back alleys and gave us a chill.  Several bars and restaurants nearby are excellent.

Our reason for the return to Giudecca/Venice was to see the 10 Vatican Chapels of the 2018 Architectural Biennial — chapels installed in a private garden on the very quiet and private island of San Giorgio — 10 places of meditation in the forest — a project of the “Holy See,” or the Pope and the Vatican.  It was the wonder child of the whole biennial and we are so glad to have taken a stroll through all ten of the chapels, designed by famous architects from around the globe.

A gingko tree was dropping its leaves.  I picked one up from the ground as a souvenir.  Inspired, I made it into an ink drawing and you can see it on our Christmas card “JOY.”

No, there wasn’t any high water.  It had receded completely.  You see waist high steel doors at doorways, ready to be put into service to keep the water out.  All around the big squares (piazza) was scaffolding to be erected in high water for pedestrian use.

The heat wasn’t working in our proper little hotel, otherwise we give it A+!

Who’s that couple walking hand in hand in the high mountain on the previous page?.  Well, it isn’t us.  I just snapped them while they walked ahead of us — their blue and red jackets perfect in the setting.  Did you think it was Bob and me?  Hah, had you fooled!

Italian language.   After 7 hours of private instruction in the last 5 weeks, my Italian has inched along.  I’ve written a story about a turkey (Peony) and a good witch (Beffi).  The latter rescues the former from a Thanksgiving dinner.  I’ll post the story and the drawings soon!  NB:  it’s in Italian!!  For kids.

Pellet Stove.. Our neighbor and fellow member of the senior citizens club does high roof work.  I am praising him to the heavens.(appropriate for high roof work)  The pellet stove is finally working.  Even after unloading a garbage bag full of birds nests straw, Giuliani and his colleague found yet another tiny nest — blocking the whole stove operation.  He has also repaired a roof leak around our TV antenna.

We are winding up our time here in Paciano — a short 5 weeks.  We’ll fly out of Rome on Friday. My next effort will be to post photos and the story about Peony. After that I’m pretty sure I won’t post again until March, when I take up residence here again. I suggest you bookmark this page and click the “follow” icon –that way you’ll get a notice by email every time I post.

Thanks so much for reading me and I wish you Merry Christmas — Buon Natale!!



December 2, 2018. Advent

The Wreath Project    This time every year a group of women in the village of Paciano get together and make wreaths.  They decorate each doorway with a beautiful wreath in the historic center of this tiny town.  Wreaths are made by hand from grape vines, cut by us locals.  Each wreath involves twisting and turning the grape vines into a circular form, tied together with wire.  Each is decorated with local greens and with recycled or “found” donated ribbons and ornaments.  I love getting together to do this project — there is a mix of local Pacianese women (Italian) along with “strsnieiri” (foreigners) such as English, American, German and Dutch, accompanied by a few tail wagging friends as everyone works together, chattering in community.  “Woe,” this year I missed the work sessions, but I’ve been around Paciano this morning photographing a few of the more fetching wreaths.  I’ll do “penance” on Monday and help finish up the last of the wreath-making job. See photos next page/day.

A Hamlet Divided. Our tiny hamlet, called “Mazzarelli,” is a subset of the bigger village mentioned above, “Paciano,” our administrative center.  I’ve just been learning that our little hamlet, here known as a “localita,” has divided loyalties.  Visualize Mazzarelli in the shape of an oval — there are about 25 homes/properties lined up along a narrow road that cuts east/west through the oval.  Those people living on the north side of the road mentally align themselves with Castiglione del Lago, the big city and market town near here.  Those living on the south side are pro Paciano.  I guess if there was a soccer game or a bike race, we’d be on the Castiglione side.  Go figure, it’s essential to note that we are ALL administered by the Pacianese mayor and police department (2 officers, one male one female) Powers that be breathe a sigh of relief when they count 1,000 residents in Paciano so that we/they can remain an official town.  If not, we’d have to merge with Panicale, and that would mean breaking down centuries old rivalries.  Why they’re glad to have us AND ED SHEERAN!!!!

Quirks and more quirks. In a few days I’ll publish my story here about Peony the turkey and Beffi, the good witch, written in Italian and illustrated by yours truly.

Watch for Advent wreath photos next and Happy Advent to you!!!

December 1, 2018. With photos of our trip two weeks ago to Brunico/Bruneck in Alto-Adige and Venice. Clockwise: Venice: Bridge of Sighs between Doges Palace and Prison. Bob and I on rooftop overlooking St. Mark’s Square (that’s the spire in the background), beating off a strong cold Adriatic wind. “Gemutlichkeit”– that’s German happiness, this time surrounding food, excellent potatoes and roasted meat in a high mountain restaurant outside Brunico. Bob and I alongside Lago di Braies, (Pragser See), the river tumbling past our hotel room in Brunico and, finally, walking in the high mountain.

November 29, 2018

Clear, cool fall day

The sun is warming us, the rain is past.  From my balcony looking to the north I can see all the way to Cortona, high up on a distant hill.  To my west I can see both Mount Cetona and Mt. Amiato: all in Tuscany.  When I can see these things I know I’m surrounded by beauty, fresh air and loveliness.  I count my blessings.

Olive oil

When we arrived here in early November, everyone was picking the last of their olives and taking them off to the mill for olive oil.  This area prides itself on its olive oil and this year had a bumper crop.  We have such a tiny garden — we have no olives — and no work!  We stopped at the village mill (frantoio) and purchased a couple of tin liters of freshly pressed oil. One tin we’ve been using, the other will go back to Kirkland with us in my suitcase.

Ah yes, the new oil, what’s so special about it???

The color is chartreuse, bright!  It’s cloudy!  It’s peppery!  It’s fabulous on salads and for dipping bread.  During the course of months it will turn to golden color, clarify and lose the zing and still be fabulous!

Giuliano, our neighbor, and roof technician came yesterday to plug up the leak around our ancient, rusty old roof antenna and to clean the chimney over the pellet stove, which, by the way, still sounds the alarm when turned on.  I must call the technician again, ugh.  My Italian’s. not that great over the phone, for starters, and I’m really bad when it comes to technical stuff, even in my own language!

Truck stop lunch today

Today we’ll meet Leslie, an American friend, for lunch at one of the local truck stops.  It’s behind a gas station. The food will be home made, it won’t break the bank and Leslie and I will likely be the only women in the room.  There will be truffles, black cabbage, grilled meats and fish and many delicacies. Taken for granted by the locals. Buon appetito!





November 27, 2018


One doesn’t have to be an American Woman in Italy to have the chimney stuffed full of straw birds nests, feathers etc.  Our pellet stove here in the tiny hamlet of Mazzarelli had sounded its alarm about a month ago. DANGER!  The repairman finally came yesterday after all these weeks.  The chimney is blocked.  It’s straw and birds nests. We are SO lucky that one of our neighbors is expert at working in high places. He kindly stopped by today to have a look at our blocked chimney and, additionally, just to add to our woe, the leak coming down through the antenna.  We live on the third floor, the attic above has a bit of water on the floor.  It’s been raining a lot.  The neighbor, Giuliano, helped us last spring stave off the pigeons, multitudes, that like to perch and poop on our kitchen windowsill.  Hopefully, he’ll resolve the leak and chimney block tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain.

Giuliano is a member of the local senior citizens club, of which we are also members.  He is one of our immediate neighbors whom I know well enough to talk to.  We see each other at the dinners sponsored by this group.  Senior citizens here are active–continuing ed. and physical ed. classes and sponsored trips around Europe.  We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary at one of their “anniversary” dinners.

We are leaving to return to US in about 10 days.

Bye bye Marco and Christian.  Our village, Paciano, has two small bars/caffes.  The tiniest one is changing hands again.  Marco and Christian, two young guys, have called it quits.  Hard to make money and boring to stay stuck in the bar all the time.  We don’t know who will run the place, but it should open tomorrow.  We don’t know if there will be changes to the coffee, to the drinks, to the atmosphere.  We’ll go check it out.

I dream of my “expresso macchiato” when I’m in the US.

Today Bob hiked to the top of our local Mt. Pausillo (Purgatorio) during my Italian lesson with Dani.  Ironic because I’ve been studying about Inferno (Hell) and Purgatorio with Dani, reading, studying Dante.  I’m also beginning to write a story about Peonia, the hen turkey, saved from death at Thanksgiving, by the Epiphany witch.


Quirks: Aldo’s Bar (Il Gallo) in the neighboring town of Panicale is hugely popular.  If you have seen Bob and me on Househunters International, you will have seen us filmed there. Everyone loves Aldo’s, especially in summer, when one can enjoy a drink on a lovely terrace in the main square.  Aldo’s bar sold Bob on coming to move here, he liked it so much.  He plays bridge there Wednesdays with the boys.

Aldo’s son opened a restaurant across the piazza a few years ago.  Last summer he installed a platform over the cobblestones outside his restaurant, thereby increasing the space for outdoor dining and making that space level and safe.  You have never heard such howls.  How ugly!  How invasive!  What nerve!  How did he get the permits?  Blah blah — a half year later the platform is gone, victim of pressure from the Belle Arte (fine arts) committtee.  So what gives???