We’ve spent a day and a night at a sunny farmhouse just outside a delightful little country town! We were treated to thousand-course meals and fascinating conversation with a wonderfully friendly and interesting Italian couple who’ve travelled the world, set up a tourist lodge in Kenya, who paint and dance and moved from Italy’s urban north to set up a farm from scratch.
We set off from Perugia and took some steep and windy roads up through some more very pretty mountain landscape towards a little town called Preggio. We were headed there to meet up with Bruno, who I originally met when he asked a question about a WordPress plugin I wrote, Flickrpress. He recently noticed we were in the area, and kindly invited us up to his home (and agriturismo) in Preggio!
We found the cute little town and took the bumpy dirt track out to the house (Nettle: “Rrrmmmm! I got this!”), sitting atop a sunny ridge surrounded by blue mountains. Bruno waved us in and introduced us to his wife Elena, and give us a tour of the place, a lovely old farm-house exquisitely interior-decorated and filled with some very aesthetic artwork painted by Elena and her aunt — quite a talented family! Elena’s aunt, also called Elena, painted a large, extremely detailed, brightly coloured idealistic Umbrian countryside scene, which was absolutely spectacular. Bruno explained that Elena was in fact going blind when she painted it and had to be very close to the canvas to see what she was doing. During this story, both Katherine and I had missed whether the Elena Bruno was talking about was his wife or someone else. Katherine found it strangely unnerving talking to Elena at the beginning and not knowing whether or not she could see us.
Our eyes were caught by a piece of Australian Aboriginal artwork in the dining room, and Bruno drew our attention to the artist signature: It was painted by David Gulpilil, a famous Australian actor. Bruno explained that when they travelled to Australia, they’d come across an art gallery in Darwin and entered, passing an Aboriginal man sitting on the street looking like a beggar. Bruno and Elena perused the artwork there and noticed some was by David Gulpilil. When they expressed interest in the artist’s identity to the shopkeeper (they’d just seen a film with Gulpilil in it), the shopkeeper indicated that he was just outside the shop — he was the man they’d passed when they entered!
The four of us sat down to lunch, and Elena brought out bread made from their own spelt flour with cheese and prosciutto while Bruno presented copious amounts of very good local red wine. Then, a big bowl of their own home-made pasta with home-grown beetroot, which was creamy and spectacular. Finally, because in Italy there’s no point stopping eating until your stomach explodes, tasty frittata and a spicy salad of home-grown lettuces and various herbs that Elena had picked growing wild in the nearby fields.
Over lunch, Bruno and Elena told us about their lifestyle change, from living in Italy’s urban north and travelling in their camper (kindred spirits!) while they built rugged campers for a living, to this farm in Preggio — and the learning curve involved, as they now make olive oil, grow vegetables, keep bees and make wine! Elena’s even taking ballroom lessons in Perugia, which we thought was pretty cool.
Bruno noted that they have their own spring here and lots of water capacity, as they predict that water may well become an issue in the future — the little survivalists! Also, Bruno told us about Italy’s ‘feed in’ electricity scheme, which is providing for their retirement: They already have an extensive array of solar panels, and are going to invest a big bunch of money in more panels, which will earn them quite a decent income per year because the Italian government pays for energy you put back into the grid; the panels will pay themselves off in ten years or so! What a great scheme.
When I expressed interest in how Bruno came to be so tech saavy (he was right with me while we were talking WordPress), he explained that he was involved in Italy’s first domain registrar, Register.IT. He’d sold during the dot com boom, and did pretty well out of it — brilliant.
Then Bruno brought out a curious spirit called Amaro, which was quite pleasant (apparently it’s quite bitter further South, and I suspect it was the stuff we encountered in Forza D’agro’ made by naughty monks), which tipped us over into need-a-nap-land. So, we parted ways for the afternoon and Katherine and I drowsily watched an electrical storm happening around us from the couch in Nettle, then napped for a while. This is living!
They offered us the use of their washing machine and dryer, which we accepted with relish (of course, Katherine had just done some hand-washing that morning — she’s good at manifesting laundry opportunities that way) — Ahh, clean sheets.
We joined them again for dinner, which somehow Elena whipped up while we were lazing around. First was fresh, raw vegetables — carrots, some kind of leafy stalks that we didn’t recognise, fennel bulbs and cooked asparagus to be dipped in a dressing of our own construction, from olive oil (Elena and Bruno’s, of course), balsamic or white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Fresh, simple and very satisfying! Then, Elena brought out an extremely tasty cheesy construction made from a vegetable that may have been rhubarb or silverbeet or a distant cousin, cooked with grilled cheese somehow. Next was a delicious simple risotto. Finally, with a rather worrisome introduction from Bruno — meat-based, not going to tell you what it is, for your own good, Bruno doesn’t like this dish but Elena does — Elena brought out a little casserole-like dish with some rather (as it turned out) innocuous-looking meat and vegetables. Well, innocuous once you get past the fact that I’m actually vegetarian, but for the purposes of proper culture-absorption relax my diet. It wasn’t till the next morning that we found out it was cow stomach! Yeech, I’m glad they didn’t tell us. It was chewy, tasty, and not like any other meat we’d had before (I thought it was a bit beefy, but I’m nominally vegetarian so what would I know).
I don’t know how Elena managed to do all that cooking, but it was a spectacular effort and we are so grateful for their hospitality!
While we were having dinner, Bruno and Elena first expressed an interest in the economic situation in Australia about which we were woefully incapable of enlightening them, aside from saying that living expenses are up and being joyful that we have escaped them to travel the world (nyaa, nyaa). Our conversation turned to the ongoing issue of Aboriginal welfare in Australia: They had seen the desolate towns in northern Australia, plagued by alcohol and drug problems and the like. I knew little about the complexities of the problem — how can I possibly comprehend how to restore pride and cultural integrity to a people whose culture we blithely destroyed, then excluded from our own culture, then grudgingly accepted as second-class citizens and more recently tried to assimilate into white Australian society with the aim of eradicating the Indigenous people once and for all? How do we now either integrate them into mainstream society or reverse the irreversible and restore their culture and way of life? — but we mused that a lot of money has been thrown at the problem in recent years — so, either it’s too little too late or the funding’s going to the wrong places. Of course, the latter is not inconceivable in a country that mindlessly logs its irreplaceable old growth forests for a quick buck, invests next to nothing in its education and research systems and plans to bottleneck its Internet traffic through a content filter to get rid of the Internet’s nasties (that can be effortlessly circumvented). A smart country, we are.
We noticed a photo on the cabinet in the dining room of a tropical-looking resort, and Bruno told us that it was Kenya — and the lodge was theirs! They’d visited and decided to buy some land and build a lodge there, together with a partner who moved to Kenya to supervise the building. He remarked on how widespread the corruption was there, and how they’d carefully done everything in strict accordance with the local bureaucracy but still had to resort to bribery to stop their paperwork from “staying at the bottom of the stack”.
We bid each other buona notte and headed for bed, parked in Bruno and Elena’s front yard.
We re-emerged in the morning for a late breakfast (oops — iPhone died in the night!) that our most gracious hosts provided, home-made bread, honey and jam with cereal and great coffee. Earlier that morning a framed painting had been delivered that we later saw was a beautifully-composed still life of pumpkins and other vegetables in peach and pastel orange hues that Elena had painted. That woman is amazing!
I attempted to fix our boiler’s issues by taking a vacuum cleaner to the outlet, thinking it may have been clogged, and did a few random things with Nettle while Bruno cast an expert eye over her. He shared some useful suggestions — solar panels, even a second alternator that can be attached onto the first one, and an approach we can take to diagnosing our leisure battery issues — and laughed at us and our indoor tendencies (we haven’t even opened our awning once).
So, we said farewell with profuse thanks for their kindness, Elena gave us some eggs from their chickens and Bruno generously presented us with some of their home-made pasta and two bottles of their olive oil, and continuing a tradition started by some friends, made us promise to send them pictures of spectacular places with the olive oil bottles in them. Will do.
We waved and drove up the bumpy driveway grinning and shaking our heads in wonder — I doubt we’ll ever meet a more lovely and interesting couple! Thanks Bruno and Elena!