Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 11, 2009

Stallions and Mares of Umbria

It is July 11, 2009…

Otherwise known as 7-Eleven Day (except in Italy it is Eleventy Seven Day), also known this year as the Feast Day of St. Benedict of Nursia (a mere 60 miles or so from here, but we won’t make it there)!

Yesterday I took my early morning ride for an hour on a dark brown horse called Olmo, which means “oak” in Italian. A good horse,  eighteen years old (they get to around 25). But not the confident one I saw earlier in the week. Oh well.

Mostly it was a leisurely ride up a hill and around the other side (with a great view from the top). It was just me and the guide, Andrea (a man). He spoke English well, and had a quiet, strong, responsible spirit. He said he had married a customer/guest from Britain, and had a funny story or two to tell about how they met and about the resort.

Later, Andrea tells me of studying with some American trainers here in Italy about the horses’ behavior in a group. He spoke of finding the #1, and being above him (or in most cases, her, as the oldest mare and mother of some of the others in the group is usually the boss). Then traveling more freely and boldly around and through the group, we have the stallion, whose role is security, the protection (not domination) of the group. Of course, being the stallion has other perks as well…

“Lucky” Luciano (my own nickname for the owner of La Casella, after the famed American gangster and playboy) is clearly the stallion of this whole operation. It’s still mostly a “Mom and Pop” business, with just a veneer of wordly or corporate image pasted over the creative, controlled chaos that Luciano has built and maintains with a stallion’s fierceness.

As I write this Saturday morning, Lucky is in the pool in front of me, talking with a woman who appears to be his girlfriend, and is likely twenty or more years younger than him. Andrea says Lucky has had four wives (the last one was apparently an unlucky American), and three children, including one child by another woman, out of wedlock. A man of about 55, Luciano has thick gray hair, an interesting face, and a deep voice (with which he loves to sing, and sings well). He has not an ounce of self-consciousness about him, and plenty of charm when he wants to turn it on.
But this means he can also be an insensitive bully and a spoiled child (not that there’s much difference). I saw and heard Luciano verbally take apart a young female employee in the office the other day. The manager Agneta, same age as him, was trying to calm him down. Clearly she’s his “work wife” and his right hand gal, the Numero Uno mare who takes care of them all.

Then, just a few minutes ago (and not conscious that I was approaching), Luciano raised his voice sharply and demanded that his girlfriend join him in the pool. She got up from the sunning chair, but only to put her feet and calves in the water near him. She’s got this guy figured out too, I think.

Back to yesterday, though. Sue and I spent the day in Florence, mostly checking out the expansive Uffizi art museum. Some pretty great stuff, but unexpectedly, very little from Michelangeo or Da Vinci (the Florentine rock star himself). We were tired after, unsure whether to check out the city more, or to go back to our time-share about 1.5 – 2 hours away. But we stayed, and wandered, and shopped for small gifts. Most of the cathedrals and other historical stuff was closed by 5pm. But we found a nice piazza (the Liguori?) with some cool Roman and other more recent statues (recent around here being, like, 1678 or 1720). Then we happened upon a jewelry shop, and in the process of our purchase struck up a great conversation about various cultures with the shop owner, Rudolfo Giordano. I told him we often eat Giordano’s pizza in Chicago regularly (no relation), and Sue warmed up to Rudolfo very much.

When we first came in the shop, I recognized the music he was playing: Keith Jarrett.on piano. Overall, jazz is bigger here in Europe than in the States (a shame, really). In an Orevieto leather shop the other day, the craftsman/salesman had Pat Metheny on, who he told me is playing a fest in Italy this week. Then Rodolfo the jeweler had Jarrett’s Koln Concert album on, and on my walk back to the car, I saw a huge billboard advertising the Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette Trio’s upcoming appearance in Italy next week.

Today, a more leisurely day around Umbria, with swimming and nature walk at the resort, and a trip ten minutes up the road to lovely little Parrano. While there, we saw a vanfull of five San Antonio women try to fit through a narrow arch over the road, only to catch and severely scrape their passenger-side mirror. They got out of the car, and a lively African-American woman called over to us, “These Americans! Can’t take them ANYWHERE!”

Turned out they are staying at our resort, just arrived today. We walked the little town with them, and talked. Though they just got here, and we will leave in the morning, I can see they are going to be a hit at La Casella, whereas we have been much more “under the radar”, eating more meals in the towns and cities, and\or at our little apartment.

Running Joke of the Week: A nearby town is called Olevole, and when I see a sign for it, I start singing “Olevole… Olevole. Olevole, Olevole, Olevole. (Watch it now, watch it, watch it.)” -to the tune of Wooly Bully. Another town within a hundred kilometers is called Bastardo, but I can’t drive all that way just to take a photo next to a funny streetsign. Or can I?

Next up: Roma! Arrividerci for now.


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