Sunday, 24 July 2016


Photo of Catino and its Lombard tower - Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

With its two castle ruins and an impressive Lombard-era watch tower that dominates this section of the Tiber Valley, there is probably not a more evocative hill town in the Bassa Sabina than Poggio Catino. Our love affair with this jewel of a town began in March of 2012 with our first visit there. We had the great fortune to be taken on a walking tour of the town with renowned photographer Giorgio Clementi. If you are interested to read my original post concerning our visit with Giorgio, here is the link.

Since our original escorted history walk with Giorgio we have had the pleasure of  visiting Poggio Catino many times, and no matter how often I visit, my original fascination with and appreciation for the town has never diminished... 

But is not just the town's look that is enchanting... I have to say it is the town's "view" and the delicious things that you can eat and drink while you enjoy Poggio Catino's view of the Tiber Valley that make this town so special. 

Bar C’è, besides serving some of the best food in the regionI had the best fish I have ever eaten in my life outside of Japan hereand very generous drinks, has perhaps the best panoramic view of the Tiber valley of any restaurant in the Bassa Sabina. When there is no Orata (gilt-head sea bream) or Tuna on the menu I always opt for their pasta all'Amatriciana, a traditional Sabine recipe. Bar C’è's pizza is also amazing... I would have to say that some of my happiest moments here in Italy have been made while I have been eating and drinking with friends here. 

View of Catino\s Castle and pentagonal Lombard watchtower - Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

Yes, Poggio Catino and sleepy smaller Catinothe older original section of town perched on vertiginous edge of a limestone karst formation cliffseem idyllic to the eye of the casual visitor. However, there is a bloody dark history that courses like a forgotten, ancient, underground river through the stones beneath the breathtaking views and tasty offerings of the bar.

Aperitivo time at Bar C’è Catino

 Not 100 paces from my favourite place to drink an Aperol Spritz is the main gate of Catino. Just inside the gate is a large door that leads to a room in which a grizzly assassination took place. The bloody remains of Pierluigi di Sant'Eustachio, the hated Duke of Poggio Catino, who was hacked to pieces by his unhappy subjects in that room, were displayed for weeks in a metal cage just outside the gate in a spot on the wall in plain view from where now stands the client-filled bar.  

But even more famous than this grizzly historical event is the mystery of La Dama Biancathe White Lady... a female skeleton discovered in 1933, chained to a wall and sealed up in a stone chamber in Poggio Catino's Palazzo Olgiati.

La Dama Bianca is a true enigma. No historical records concerning this event have been found. Various theories as to who this unfortunate person was exist, but no one knows for sure... Was she a Colonna prirtransoner or hostage held and then cruelly killed by their enemies the Orsini who ruled Poggio Catino between 1484 and 1525? Or was she an inconvenient wife or mistress of some ruthless castelan? Whoever she was, La Dama Bianca's skeletal remains, her iron chains, the terracotta oil lamp and water jug that were walled in with her and even a section of the castle walls that surrounded her were carefully removed and transferred to the Museum of Criminology in Rome. She is the first display to welcome you after you have paid your 2 euro entrance fee.

Scriptwriter Manuelle Grilli, Director Manuel Montanari, and actor Geronimo Brengola

In 2014, a young filmmaker and director from Poggio Catino named Manuel Montenari, with the support of the Comune of Poggio Catino and the collaboration of the local youth committee, created a short historical drama, a fictional account of the mystery, called La Dama.

The script for the film was written by Manuele Grilli. Our friend, Giorgio Clementi, worked as Director of Photography, while the editing was handled by the film's Executive Producer, Fabrizio Fazio. 

Director Manuel Montanari and Directory of Photography, Giorgio Clementi hard at work - Photo courtesy of Manuele Grilli  

This film offers one of the explanations of the who, when and why of the Dama Bianca. The story takes place during a time when the Colonna and Orsini, two bitter rivals among the leading noble houses of renaissance Italy, were involved in a prolonged bloody feud. A beautiful young Colonna noblewoman held captive by the Orsini ruler of Poggio Catino falls prey to the jealousy of the ambitious mistress of the Castelan when the Castelan falls in love with the victim. The short was filmed in several locations in and around Poggio Catino and Catino using local amateur actors.

The film was launched in Poggio Catino on August 15, 2014. The success of this first film sparked interest in making another historical short film based on an even bloodier, and this time well-documented, dark episode in the history of Poggio Catino: the story of the rise and fall of La BelvaThe Beast, in Englishthe tyrannical Pierluigi di Sant'Eustachio, oras he demanded to be knownAeloisius Secundus Dux Catini. 

Mock up of the promotional poster for La Belva - Courtesy of Manuele Grilli

As you can guess by the title, Pierluigi di Sant'Eustachio was in no way a sympathetic character. It is said that he came to rule the castles and lands of Poggio Catino, Catino and Tancia through the murder of his father, followed by the murder of one brother and the imprisonment of another. Once he had established his absolute rule over his territory, he exercised his power to the extreme, confiscating the lands and goods of his richer vassals at whim, and forcefully kidnapping and having his way with any woman or girl in his territory that he took a fancy to. There was no resisting him. Those that tried to stand up to him were beaten up, imprisoned, or often outright killed. Things got so bad that eventually a large part of the population of his lands fled across his borders to Poggio Mirteto and other neighbouring towns to save themselves.

A scene from La Belva filmed at Sant'Agostino Church - Courtesy Giorgio Clementi

I first found out about this second film project by chance in October 2014. A friend of mine and I were taking a walk around Poggio Catino trying to build up an appetite for a lovely pasta lunch at Bar C'è. We were exploring an area of Poggio Catino's old castle, looking for the spot where La Dama Bianca had been discovered, when we bumped into Manuele Grilli, just outside the Comune office. This was a happy coincidence for a number of reasons as we discovered, through talking about La Dama, that not only did we have a number of friends and acquaintances in common, including Giorgio Clementi and Manuel Montanari, but that Manuele had been another key collaborator in the La Dama project, as he had written the screenplay.

Manuele Grilli, showing us the section of the Castle wall where the Dama Bianca was found in 1933

Manuele very kindly took my friend and I on a tour through the Comune offices, which in fact is what is left of the noble residence inside the old castle. Among the sumptuously frescoed and decorated rooms there were many that had been used as a film set for La Dama, some that were even still being used to store a number of the props from the filming.

Ceramic props for La Dama

Manuele and I exchanged contact information and "friended" each other on Facebook. In subsequent messages he told me about the upcoming second film project. I told him that I would be interested in writing something about the film for my blog... Then Manuele asked me if I might be interested in a small part of the cast.

Of course I was intrigued with the idea. It was a lovely gesture on Manuele's part, but I didn't really think too much about it until May of this year whenout of the blueI received a message from Manuele asking if I was still interested in being involved. 

Article in Il Messagero newspaper about the filming of La Belva 4 may 2016

Well how could I pass up an opportunity like this? Long story short, what I thought would be an "extra" part, turned out to be a speaking part... Due to a scheduling conflict, the original person who had agreed to play my role had to duck out... Instead of a native Italian speaker, a Canadian with a very questionable Italian accent, took the role of a father whose young daughter was taken away forcibly by La Belva's evil henchmen, because, "Il Conte ha bisogno di donne questa sera!"

It felt a little strange parachuting into the cast towards the latter part of the filming, but everyone was very welcoming... It turns out that many in the cast were friends of friends, so I was not a totally unknown commodity. Everyone was friendly.

I participated in an afternoon of rehearsals in which I met the people who I would be doing my scenes with: Daniela Schiavona, who played the role of my lovely wife, 

Hamming it up in a selfie with my lovely "wife" Daniela

Sofia Placidi, who played the role of my beautiful, and therefore ultimately unfortunate daughter,

Me and my "daughter" Sofia on set on the last day of filming at the church of Sant'Agostino - Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

and Michele Manili, who played La Belva's most evil evil henchman. 

Michele Manili,  a.k.a. Guardia X, at right - Photo courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

It sure was an eye opener being on set. Putting together a production like this takes an awful lot of work, patience, and especially time. There is a lot of waiting around...

By the time I got involved in the filming, most of the scenes had already been shot in the previous weeks. The three scenes that I was involved with were filmed just outside the castle walls in Poggio Catino, and down in the countryside below the hill town beside the venerable Chiesa di Sant'Agostino. 

The speaking scene that I did was filmed, along with a number of others, at night in the dark, in and around the Poggio Catino's castle walls. We all met in the comune office where we each changed into our costumes and then went for make up. 

The talent, busy, and very patient Romina Rosati, our mapeup artist at work

I can't remember when we actually got started filming that evening, but we finished somewhere between three thirty and four in the morning. My scene was filmed nearer the end. 

A to H, my speaking scene, in which my daughter is kidnapped at knife-point - Courtesy of Manuele Grilli

In it two of La Belva's evil henchmen come to our house to take our daughter for a night with the Duke. My three short lines in Italian were:

"Vi prego! Dove la portate? Lasciatela stare!" 

Which  translates:

"I beg you. Where are you taking her? Leave her be!"

To this, Michele, the evil Guardia X draws a knife, pushes me to the ground, and hisses his response: 

"Il Conte ha bisogno di donne questa sera, e ringrazia il cielo che non ti uccida." 

Which  translates:

"The Count needs women tonight, and thank heaven that he does not kill you."

"...E ringrazia il cielo che non ti uccida!"

I don't know how many takes it took. Of course I screwed up my lines a number of times, and there was once or twice where Michele couldn't help laughing... Maybe it was my Canadian accent. Anyway, it was an experience.

I second scene I was involved in was when our daughter returns bruised, disheveled and in a terrible daze the morning after being raped by the duke. The camera was on a rolling track following Sofia as she stumbled barefoot toward Daniela and I. Sofia is so badly traumatised that she does not seem to recognise us. I take hold of her shoulders, look into her eyes and gently shake her while Daniela throws a shawl over Sofia's shoulders.

Photo courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

It was very interesting to see this scene through the camera after it was filmed. It is one thing to be an actor in the scene and see all the rest of the crew, the camera and camera man, the director, other actors in the background when you act the scene, and then when you see it as it was filmed, the framing, of course changes everything.

The director consults his notes

The last day of filming took place beside the grey stone walls of a country church called Sant'Agostino. A number of scenes were filmed there. The one I was involved in showed my family joining a number of other people leaving Poggio Catino for safety in Poggio Mirteto. 

Another scene involved a group of what was left of the leading citizens of Poggio Catino discussing what to do about the terrible situation. Two of them Ludovico and Manfredo agree to make one last ditch effort to reason with the Duke. Each of these men in turn is murdered... 

Photo of Ludovico's drowning courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

Ludovico is drowned in a butt of his own wine, and Manfredo is chocked to death while being force fed by one of La Belva's guards. 

Another key scene filmed that day involved the invitation of three of the remaining townspeople to dinner with the Duke. 

Giorgio Clementi takes some still shots during the scene when the three townspeople are invited to a poisoned dinner

On the menu for these three special guests were poisoned snails and mushrooms. The Duke had caught wind that there was a plot to assassinate him when the plotters were betrayed by an eavesdropping innkeeper. 
The plotters' plans are overheard by the evil innkeeper, a friend of the Duke

There are so many plot twists in this story, it is mind-boggling. I won't go any further into the details but suffice it to say, the betrayed plotters are forewarned and survive this attempt on their lives and, 

A toast! Snails anyone? How about those mushrooms, a special treat from my friend, the innkeeper? 
...with their help, La Belva gets what he deserves in the end. I still can't believe that so much of this story, the bloodiest bits anyway, occurred just a hundred paces from my favourite place for an aperitivo... You just don't know, do you?

If the stones of this castle wall could talk...

All in all, this was a wonderful experience for me. I so appreciate being included in this amazing project. Thank you Manuele Grilli (Director), Giorgio Clementi (Director of Photography), Fabrizio Fazio (Executive Producer and Cameraman), and all the cast and crew. You guys are the greatest! 

At the wrap party

I can't wait to see the launch of this film. It will premiere on August 15th, 2016 in Poggio Catino's main piazza. There will be DVDs with English language subtitles for sale... and a special menu of snails and mushrooms! 

Scherzo! Just kidding!  

The official promotional trailer (with English subtitles) for the film is now out! 

I am ready for my close up

I hear rumours that there is a third film in the works... I wonder if they need an extra...

Note: I would like to thank Manuele Grilli and the cast and crew, particularly Giorgio Clementi for the use of many of the photos included in this post.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Boared in Orvieto - Posted on Facebook - Painted in Vancouver - Framed in Casperia: THE STORY BEHIND A PORTRAIT

This is a slightly different post than usual as it has to do with a piece of art that I bought during a recent visit to Vancouver. This portrait of my partner and I has its origin in a selfie, one of many we took around midnight during New Year 2016 celebrations in Orvieto... 

...but it ultimately does have a Casperia connection. 

My partner and I were in Orvieto for the last couple of days of 2015, staying at a friend's tower house in the town's lovely medieval quarter. We had cooked and eaten at home, a simple but hearty panful of mezze maniche all'Amatriciana downed with a couple of bottles of good Orvieto Classico white wine. We wanted to see how Italians celebrated New Year's Eve so we decided to take a bottle of prosecco and a couple of plastic glasses up to the piazza in front of Orvieto's Duomo. 

Winter nights in Orvieto can be bone-chillingly damp and cold so we bundled up as best we could and headed out towards the cathedral. Eating, as you can imagine, is a big part of any Italian celebration, and the streets of Orvieto were emptier than we expected, probably because people were still at home, lingering over their Cenone, the traditional "Big Supper" Italians eat at Capodanno... Or maybe everyone was napping after their lentils. 

Anyway, we got to the piazza in front of Orvieto's spectacular gothic cathedral and waited for the crowds to gather. At first, the only other people in the piazza was a small group of teenagers on the cathedral steps and, across the way, a half a dozen camouflaged soldiers armed with machine guns—a regular siting now in front of all major churches and tourist attractions here in Italy since Daesh has threatened the country. 

About 10 minutes to midnight, the piazza began to fill up. It was mostly a young crowd, and we were a little unnerved to find that, though there had been a clear directive banning the use of the traditional fire crackers due to heightened security concerns, not only did a lot of people have fire crackers and fireworks, but some of the more rambunctious were lighting them and tossing them in the direction of the machine gun-toting guards. I have to say that this raised my anxiety level a little. It felt a little like being on an amusement park ride that was more frightening than amusing, and I wanted off. 

But of course we stayed, and nothing happened. Midnight rolled around and all of Orvieto's bells started tolling. There were firecrackers and fireworks going off everywhere. We opened our bottle of prosecco, two Canadians in an Italian raucous crowd, and toasted the new year.   

On our way back to our friend's house in the medieval quarter we took a couple of selfies. We were happy, tired, un po' ubriaco—a little drunk, giddy, and acting more than a little bit goofy, and that shows in the pictures.

A few days later when we were back in Casperia I posted all my Orvieto pictures on Facebook and then I basically forgot about them for a while.

Flash forward to February of 2016...  I started noticing posts on Facebook by a friend of mine, an ex-co-worker from the Gourmet Warehouse, named Jean Smith. I always loved working with Jean. She was a fascinating character... a published author, a singer in a two piece indie rock band that has been around since the 80s called Mecca Normal and, as I found out later, a very accomplished artist.

Jean began posting a series of portraits of women in various head gear called "The Hat Series", offering what I thought to be rather Modiglianiesque painters for $100US plus shipping. 

I was totally blown away by the paintings and by Jean's newly revealed talent.  I of course "liked" these postings and started adding comments to the ones I particularly liked.

This turned into a conversation with Jean on Facebook and at one point I asked her if she ever did commissions. It was truly a hypothetical question. Though I knew she was selling these portraits from among the paintings she had on hand for $100US, I knew that a commissioned portrait would and should cost way more. A commissioned portrait was a luxury that I knew we really couldn't afford at the moment, but it was an idea I thought would be fun to entertain sometime in the future. 

So the next day I opened Facebook and, lo and behold, I found this image posted on my timeline.

I was flabbergasted and at the same time chuffed as hell. If I remember correctly, my reaction to Jean's post was a series of OMG! OMG! OMG!s probably followed by a Wow!

I just couldn't believe it. Jean had gone through my timeline and found one of the goofy selfies that I had taken back in Orvieto on New Year's Eve. Richard and I had stopped under a stuffed boar's head on Via del Duomo near where it intersects Corso Cavour, mugged it up and took a selfie. I really doubt that I would have chosen such a photo myself for a commissioned portrait but, after the fact, I couldn't imagine a more perfect image. 

I actually found the Facebook interchange between Jean and I. Here it is:

A few weeks later I was back in Vancouver. I return for a month every six months to teach ESL to Japanese students. On weekends I operate my "History Walks in Vancouver", a series of walking tours I escort through a number of Vancouver's historic neighbourhoods, mostly in my old neighbourhood, Strathcona, in Vancouver's old East End, but also in Grandview, the West End and Mount Pleasant. Jean and I had arranged to meet on Commercial Drive after I finished a tour of Grandview. We found a bench on the NW corner of Commercial and Second Avenue and sat down an chatted for a while, catching up. Then finally she reached inside her bag and there was the picture.

It was such a thrill to have the piece of art in my hands. Jean told me that when she posted a photo of the painting that someone else had actually wanted to buy it. I thought that was funny but I guess that means that means that the painting stands on its own as a piece of art. For me though, it is very personal. It make me smile every time I look at it. It brings back not only the memories of that crazy, noisy, ubriaco Italian New Year's in Umbria, but also very fond memories of my times working together with Jean. 

It was so exciting to see Jean's portrait art taking off and to know that when she becomes very rich and famous from her artwork that I can point to this picture and say that this was one of her very first commissioned portraits and to be able to tell its story.

Here is a link to Jean Smith's Art website, and you will be able to see a large number of Jean's portraits in this YouTube video. She has a lot of her 11x14 portraits, some with hats, and some without, for sale still. If you are not on Facebook and are interested in purchasing her artwork or discussing commissioning a piece, here is her contact information

By late March I was back in Casperia, just in time to celebrate my 60th birthday. For a number of weeks Jean's portrait of Richard and I and the wild boar rested on the mantle piece. It needed a frame but we didn't know what to do. We knew we could buy ready made frames at the Ikea in Porto di Roma but I didn't really like that idea. We knew there was an art shop that did frames on the main piazza in Poggio Mirteto but we wondered about the expense. More than anything we wanted the frame to be unique, special... something that was worthy of the art.

And then I remembered our friend Massimo Romani. We have known Massimetto, as his friends call him, ever since we started coming to Casperia in 2009. A stonemason, roofer and a general handyman, we hired Massimetto shortly after we moved here to build two stone flower beds outside our front door. One of the biggest things we missed about our house in Vancouver was having a garden, and Massimetto was able to not only build us two beautiful raised beds from stones that Richard and I had collected from the valley floor, but was also able to attach a number of terracotta pots to the wall outside our house. 


As you can see, he did an amazing job and the price he charged us was very reasonable considering the time the job took and the level of craftsmanship involved. Anyway, recently Massimetto has returned to a long time love, that of wood working. Between contracts doing roofing, building stone walls or repairing patios Massimetto has been holed up in his workshop in the family cantina off Via San Rocco working on a number of carpentry and furniture restoration projects as well as having fun building wooden lamp bases out of stumps and even constructing scale model Japanese junks out of scrap wood and toothpicks. Like his stone and masonry work, Massimetto takes immense pride in his woodworking projects. Recently I asked Massimetto to restore and antique wooden tray I bought for 15 euros at the rigattiere or second hand/junk shop in Forano. I wish I had taken a before picture so you could see the difference. The tray, which measures about a metre long and and about 60 centimetres wide was constructed from a single piece of oak and was so dried out, worm eaten and cracked that Richard questioned me buying it. One of the long edges was almost cracked right off, had a piece of wood missing and had been repaired with a metal staple. There was another crack starting on the other side. When I first bought it I thought I would clean it up and revarnish it myself, but I decided I wanted the job well done, and I could think of no one better to look after this project than Massimo. 

Here above you can see the perfectly restored tray. There is no evidence of the earlier damage at all. He even found a piece of matching wood to replace the piece missing near one of the corners. The tray has a place of honour on our dining room table where it is used mostly as a fruit bowl.

So yes, we asked Massimo to look after the framing of Jean's painting. I dropped the portrait off at Massimetto's workshop and after a day or two, this is what I picked up... a beautiful hand made frame that has been burned an amber brown to match some of the colours in the painting. He added a darker stained trim along the edge. The effect is similar to having a frame with a proper mat. He even added a touch of whimsey by adding antique furniture tacks on each corner.  I couldn't have been more delighted.

These two pictures were taken in Massimetto's workshop. The one above shows the painting laid flat on the Romani family summer dining table in the cantina, and the one below, of course, shows Jean Smith's portrait held by the artisan that framed it so beautifully.

Today, Jean's portrait of the two tipsy Canadians based on a selfie taken under a wild boar's head on Via del Duomo in Orvieto after midnight on New Year's Day 2016 hangs proudly over our mantle in our house here in Casperia.  So there you have it, the story behind the portrait.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Un Pommeriggio con Pino alla ricerca degli Mitici Asparagi Selvatici della Sabina - A Guest Post by Richard Rooney

Our pal Pino

Today I had one of those days that after living in Italy in a small hilltop town for over a year and a half stood out as one of the best. I went asparagus hunting! 

In 2012, we discovered, or should I say, we were introduced to Asparagi selvatici, Italy's wild asparagus, by our friend Fiorenzo Francioli from Montebuono.  Before he found me my first sprig, I had looked at all of these nonni and nonne happily ambling along the country roads we were driving on who were carrying home bag loads of wild asparagus... And I couldn't even find my first sprig.  I don't know why, but I was obsessed with finding it.

Our first wild asparagus sprig in 2012 found for us in Montebuono by our friend Fiorenzo

After that first green sprig I was totally hooked.  Every spring James and I would walk in the countryside picking up the odd piece here and there, but still nothing could compare to what the locals were getting.  

Back in the days when I was happy to find two sprigs on the road to Santa Maria in Legarano

I have to admit, there were times I almost wanted to stick my head out our rental car window and grab a bag of it from some poor contadina! It was just a thought, but seriously, I was tempted. 

We first really connected with our friend, Pino Perilli a couple of years ago at the Sagra del Frittello (Deep Fried Cauliflower Festival) in Roccantica.  He was dancing with his wife Donatella, and James and I were mesmerised by how beautifully they danced.  

They danced the two step, the fox trot, the tango, you name it they knew it and danced it well. 

They have something here called Ballo di Gruppo... 

It's the Italian version of line dancing—to me a lot sexier than our Western boot scoot dancing! I got up to give it a try, and Pino taught me a dance in two minutes. 

Even Sponge Bob Square Pants does Ballo di Gruppo
He is an amazing teacher: patient, steady, and very clear on instruction. Anyway, the dancing is a whole other story. Hopefully I can write about that in the near future.

Back to wild asparagus huntingand it is a hunt... Spring is here, and lately we have been seeing photos on Facebook of Pino with wadges of wild asparagus... huge bunches of it.  As much as I admired his bounty of the green treasureso deliciousI must say I was a bit envious.

The other day while I was sick in bed, Pino phoned and said he was coming over.. that he had to drop something off.  Ten minutes later he was at our door with a huge bouquet of asparagus, telling me to share half with our good friends Helen and Ritchie Dakin.

We were so grateful, because if you have not had the immense pleasure, the taste wild asparagus is like nothing like any store-bought asparagus you have ever had before. There are different kinds. Some a little more bitter, some sweeter. Chopped up and sautéed with eggs, tossed in pasta, or mixed in with a delicate risotto, anything... It is an earthy, sweet taste that exalts any dish. Highly prized by cooks and buongustai all over Italy, if you try to buy it in the markets, you pay a pretty penny.

Wild asparagus at 39 Euros a kilogram at a vegetable store in Poggio Mirteto

I then asked Pino if he wouldn't mind if I came with him on one of his hunts, and he said, "Certo!" No problem!  I promised not to tell anyone about his secret places. He just laughed and said "Va bene, va bene!"

So today was our day. I thought that we would be walking to where we would be foraging but it was about a twenty minute tractor ride out in the countryside, which I absolutely loved.  There is something about riding on a tractor that brings back wonderful memories of being on the farm in Saskatchewan and riding one with my Uncle Bill during the harvest. It made me feel like I was 10 years old again.

We arrived at our destination, parked the tractor in an olive grove at the base of a hill, then climbed through the grove up into the wild. Pino explained that if I was foraging where there was dense growth, for safety's sake, before I picked any asparagus, that I should poke around a bit with a stick... In case there were any serpenti—poisonous snakes!  Springtime is apparently the time you should really watch out for them, so I had a bastonebig stickto fight off the vipers. 

I asked Pino, "What about you?" but he said no. They flee when they see him... And if they're not fast enough, he picks them up and takes a bite out of them!
So, for the next two and a half hours, we traversed a hill with some paths, but also a lot of dense growth...  As Pino said, "Quando si sporca, si trova!" It's when you get dirty—meaning hiking in dense growth—that you find them.

Pino has eyes like a falcon.  He could spot a piece of asparagus a block away.  We went our separate ways for a while, and I actually was doing pretty good, and thought, wow, I've actually got a few here. 

About half an hour later, I met up with him, saying, "Hey! I've got a few!" He said, "Me too, just a few." In his hand, he was holding about 100 pieces ! 

Pino's bunch on the left, mine on the right

Near the end of our hike, he would say, "Richard, look there, there's one. Richard, look over there, there's another one!  I was really being trained by the Master!  

I was getting a little tired, and very very thirsty—I can't believe I hadn't thought to bring water. Finally, we headed back down the hill and soon we were back on Pino's tractor, riding happily through the beauty of the Sabine countryside back to Casperia. Pino drove us right up into town, through the Porta Romana. As Pino's tractor rumbled up the steps heading toward Via Massari I turned and looked across the valley to where we had been foraging and breathed in the amazingly clean air. I felt blessed and so lucky. At Via Massari I hopped off the tractor, thanked Pino, then turned and wearily made my way up Casperia's stone steps to Via Latini to show James my fistful of heaven.  

Tonight, James is cooking freshly made Stringozzi with sausage and pancetta, and, oh, of course, asparagus !

Thank you Pino, il Re degli Asparagi, for showing us so many things here in Casperia: dancing, olive picking, and asparagus hunting. It is hard to put into words but these are gifts to me, and I am so grateful...
We are so lucky to be here, and so glad that we embarked on this journey of moving to Italy and having these very simple, but amazing  experiences!