Kiwis, Hazelnuts, and Bruschette

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Early this morning our crew drove us back to the spot they’d picked us up, so we started off the day’s walk splashing right through the same mud puddle as last night. Our path took us alongside the highway for awhile and then into the countryside again. Notable sights included a kiwi farm, ancient grottoes carved into the soft rock and now filled most of the way with modern garbage (old toilets are a common fixture), and lambs so young that their umbilical cords were still swinging from their bellies as they stumbled along on their spindly legs.

In the apparently ordinary town of Vetralla we stopped at a café for espresso and then at a Tabacchi for more phone credit. While fiddling around with the latter on the piazza, we were overheard by a fellow American who pegged us as pilgrims and began to reveal the wonders of Vetralla. Unable to resist Mary Jane’s enthusiasm, we followed her to the city hall to see the coat of arms of Henry VIII (yes, the one with 6 wives) carved in stone, unrecognized for what they were until she solved the mystery. Vetralla, as it turns out, had been given by the pope to the English crown as a protectorate half a millennium ago, and various English sorts popped up again and again, including a cardinal of the Napoleonic era, whose bust we saw in the judicial chamber upstairs.

But a better treat was in store yet, because Mary Jane invited us back to her house to join her and her companion Fulvio for a midday bite to eat of bruschetta, just simple country bread toasted on the top and generously anointed with their own home-pressed olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, accompanied by chunks of parmesan and local white wine. All this in the setting of Mary Jane’s beautiful home (her library filled me with unbecoming feelings of covetousness, I must admit) and learning all about the local history of Etruria. She writes about the area—trying to give Lazio some of the reputation that Tuscany hogs all for itself—and Fulvio writes cookbooks (we came away with three new books for our own library!). Our lack of competency in Italian has meant considerably fewer serendipitous encounters here as compared to our time in the germanophone lands, so this was a wonderful surprise and blessing.

We headed up out of town through a park and over a wooded hill, populated with mushrooms hunters roving through the undergrowth in search of porcini. On the other side of the hill we descended into hazelnut groves, planted in tidy patterns, an occasional ruined tower poking out among them. At length we came into Capranica, a hilltop town but quite a lot bigger than the ones we were visited in Tuscany, shabby and shoddy on the outside but wonderfully 3D with narrow alleys and staircases and twists and turns every which way. At the far end we spiralled down steps running along the outer wall to a nice flat parking lot, perfect for a camper and our home for the night once more.

3 thoughts on “Kiwis, Hazelnuts, and Bruschette

  1. We were in East Germany in ’87 – Erfurt, Eisleban, Eisenacht, and wittenberg – with a group from our church choir. This predated the crumbling Berlin Wall. Checkpoints were sober reminders of the war years and the somber scrutiny of the police state it once was. As an antiquated alum of Marion College, I learned of your pilgrimage through your mother, Ellen, who works diligently to keep alive the memory of the college through its newspaper. Her many miles logged on the open road brought her to PA on several occasions. I am very thankful for this connection.She is a lovely lady I would otherwise have missed on my life’s journey.

  2. On the topic of foods, I have made a couple batches of Cecina (Farinata) since my return to the states. I’ve yet to meet Ligurian or Tuscan standards, but enjoyed what I did make and plan to continue my experiments. I am curious about the name of the Etrurian equivalent, presuming there is one.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the pause in Vetralla. In Rome you should contact Foyer Unitas, Piazza Navona/Via dell’Anima, who have been working for ecumenism for decades. Tonight is my book presentation in Rome . Hope you are enjoying the books. Stay well… Mary Jane & Fulvio

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