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On the Land in Umbria - Anne Robichaud

Anne Robichaud

Anne Robichaud

As a junior-year abroad student in Rome while at the University of Santa Clara, I tumbled head-over-heels into Italy. Total surrender. I graduated from SCU, then went on to University of California-Berkeley for work in education. Italy was always in my mind; not at the back of my mind, but right up front. I traveled in Europe after completing my work at UCB and ran out of money (conveniently) just as I entered Italy. I found a teaching job in Rome at the International School and taught there for 2 years.

I was in love with Italy but determined NOT to end up marrying an Italian. His name is Pino. A friend of mine from Berkeley, Nancy, joined me for a trip around Sicily at the end of December during my Christmas break from teaching. We had very little money and hitched everywhere. But Sicily so captivated us that we kept putting off departure, and ended up taking an all-night train from Palermo back to Rome so that I could start teaching again the following morning.

The train was packed. January 5th, 1975. Looking back on it, of course the train was overloaded with all the Sicilian immigrant workers heading back to work in Milan, Turin and Switzerland after Christmas vacation at home. Pino, too (though I didn't know it then, logicamente), and most likely, his mother had packed up for him citrus fruits from their trees, her famous pasta alle sarde sauce, caponata, sesame cookies, probably too the Palermo chickpea bread panelle (an import straight from the Arab cuisine of nearby north Africa). He worked then as a chemical analyst in Milan, having emigrated north when he was 19.

There was one empty seat on the train. Next to me. Pino read for a long time, Nancy and I chatted. We all eventually ended up talking most of the night about Italian politics. Pino was trying to simplify it all for us. (He still is).

Anne and Pino in 1977

The rest is history: Pino and I moved to Umbria the following fall to work the land. We had very little money and limitless will and determination. You can read about our years working the land in the articles which are here on Slow Travel ... and which will follow.

We still live on the land - though we no longer actively farm - and we are restoring our stone farmhouse. The former ruin, beautiful in its rough simplicity - built from scratch with the materials of the earth all around by the farmer who built it and lived in it - is now being transformed under Pino's expertise. He has a crew of 20 workers and is considered the best in our area in the restoration of the stone architecture.

So - finalmente! - as the Italians would say, "la figlia del calzolaio avra' le sue scarpe" ("the shoemaker's daughter will finally have shoes").

I work as a lecturer (for academic programs here in Umbria and also in the US in the winter) and Umbrian tour guide (I am the only American authorized "Guida Regionale dell'Umbria"). I center my tours on absolutely "inside" experiences of the Umbrian hilltowns and the local people, sharing what has always fascinated me about Italy and the Italians. Family tours are a joy (as teaching is a first love). I offer cooking classes (for adults and children) of Umbrian rural cuisine here in our homes, and create entire customized tour packages (in Umbria and elsewhere) for visitors.

My objective in all: share the Umbria which has given so much to us, in such a variety of ways. To continue in this sharing, I am writing essays about our life in Umbria for the Slow Travel site. I know you will come to love Umbria and Italy as much as we do.

Anne Robichaud lives near Assisi and gives lectures and tours. www.annesitaly.com

© Anne Robichaud, 2005. Do not republish without permission.

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