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First Bells

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It has been a month since I left Anyang. I am sorry for the radio silence, my friends. 

The past month has been a cacophonous jumble of airports, train stations, layovers and cities and towns. I ran away from Seoksu first to Toride (Japan) for an art festival, then back to Incheon Airport to catch my flight back to home. I was in Harlem to watch the election returns on the momentous night, then jumped on a plane to Italy after a quick mani-pedi. I have been home roughly a week now.

A majority of November was spent in Montone, an ancient walled town in Umbria. I arrived a few days late for Montone’s “Festa del Bosco.” November is white truffle and porcini season in Umbria. The new wine was in. Olives were being picked and pressed. I selfishly participated and experienced these things in the gracious hospitality of my friends, Jeff and Jude. “Selfishly” I say, because until now I have not shared these adventures with you. Let me explain why. 

Part of it has to do with everything in Italy being overwhelmingly beautiful. This is a lazy photo taken out of my bedroom window. See what I mean?

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Time in Montone is kept according to the ringing of the two bell towers within the walls of the town. The bells ring the hour and every quarter hour between 8 a.m. and 9 or 10 p.m. That morning, my first morning in Montone, I missed “first bells.” But somehow got in front of a latte in the kitchen and then another cappuccino in the piazza. 

Before I knew it, we were drinking prosecco in Citta di Castello’s piazza in preparation for Citta’s festival and market of the Tartufo Bianco. One palazzo was filled with new wines, another new olive oils, another packed with tartufi vendors. There was a large tent of bread, cheese and salumi. There were truffles larger than your hand in glass cases and smaller truffles the size of various bird’s eggs under little snifters or nested in red chestnut leaves. Tables were stacked with truffle byproducts like truffle-oil, -sauce, -butter, or rice, cheeses and sausages infused with truffle. A stray basket of porcini graced displays here and there. As we walked by, the  vendors would motion to us, offer us bits of bread with a swipe of tartufi salsa, then tip the glass domes for us to have a sniff. 

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Jude bought a couple white truffles. We ate them that night shaved over scrambled eggs. So simple, so subtle and it knocked my socks off. People say truffles taste like sex. But it’s more than that, truffles make you feel like you are in love. You want the feeling to last forever. I took pictures that day. Then a few stray pictures here and there. 

The next day I woke to second bells. Like a convalescent I was restored enough to realize my brain and spirit were fried from Korea. The artist in me, I realized, I needed a vacation. So I apologize.

I am sorry I could not share with you our day of porcini hunting, or the epic Sunday lunch at Sottobosco that featured no less than 12 antipasti servings (most laced with truffles or porcini or some other equally rare product of the woodsy undergrowth). It was selfish of me to keep these things from you these past few weeks. It was selfishness that keep me from telling you about the beautiful walk we took along the ridges surrounding Montone; about the delicious lunches of roasted quail and cannelli beans dressed in truffle sauce; the day we made pumpkin gnocchi and pumpkin soup; or Jude’s sublime fish soup after market day in Umbertide. I was not a good friend to have kept from you the scent of chestnut leaves and pine trees, the smell of woodsmoke from the stone fireplaces of the town, or the spooky, romantic chill of the fog that filled the valley below Montone from dusk til morning (like Brigadoon).

One day I will tell you these stories my dear ones. I will also tell you what is like to be only one of two women at an Umbrian truckstop diner (the convenience store had a 150€ bottle of single-malt scotch); to climb olive trees; to feel the roaring of an olive oil mill; or console an American tourist–a stranger from Salt Lake City–when she was moved to tears by the beauty of the Umbrian countryside, its walled cities, ancient churches, and gory relics.

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I promise I will share all these experiences with you in good time. Meanwhile, I am back in New York and waiting for my stuff to arrive on a slow boat from Korea. Meanwhile, I am still working on posting the 2000+ photos to my field guide to Korean food, www.touchandtaste.org. Meanwhile, I am making French onion soup and lamb curry in my Harlem kitchen and reading about fermentation while riding the subway. Meanwhile, I am getting ready for the rest of my life to start (if you have any suggestions on what that might consist of, let me know). 

It is lovely and terrifying to be home.

Love, 
Elaine
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Written by etinnyo

December 1, 2008 at 12:35 am

Posted in Art, Food, Italy, Korea, Umbria

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