(See related photos under Portfolio menu. Note they are photographed with a wide-angle lens so rooms are not quite as large as they appear, however, the ceilings really are 11 ft. high.)
The brother of Mario, our unofficial food critic, named Giampaolo, knows about the artist who painted the frescoes in our apartment and says a relative of the artist still lives in Ascoli and has a photography studio. The artist, Egido Coppola (1852-1928), lived in Ascoli and was a famous artist in his time. He painted frescoes in several villas and churches in the surrounding areas. Our landlord told us that one of the buildings in the courtyard behind us use to be a silk factory and he thinks the person who lived in our building was associated with it, while the building directly behind us was the servant quarters. Italy had a flourishing silk industry beginning in the middle-ages that lasted for centuries. The other day when we attended the opening Mike’s art exhibit, we discovered that a couple we met there owned our apartment from 1999 to 2006. Sergio and Laura said the place was a shambles when they bought it and they are responsible for the beautiful restoration. Sergio spoke fondly of the property saying he left his heart here, and I would guess a lot of lire, and sold it to our current landlord in 2006 or 2007. Laura, who supervised the restoration, speculates that the original building was built sometime around the end of the 16th Century. They also said the living room area of our apartment was once the dining room of a villa where silk merchants were fed and that is why the frescos are about game and associated foods. Laura is a friend of Cinzia M. and is the person who told the Mike and Avril, who have the apartment below them, about our blog. Crazy coincidence? Maybe this kind of thing is just normal in a town this size?
Living/dining room area – Sergio and Laura confirmed that they are not aware of another bay window like ours in Ascoli and told us the current woodwork at the bottom of the windows was salvaged from the kitchen. We assume that is also when the hardwood floors were completed/refinished, which are in all the rooms but one. They said they hired three artists to meticulously restore the frescoes. The one on the wall of the hunting dog is the closest thing to a pet we plan to have in Italy, so we have named him Baldo. (This is the name of a dog we met at an agritourismo in Orvieto in 2006, and we just hope it does not translate into something gross.) He is the perfect pet as he does not bark nor eat and, therefore, we do not have to clean up behind him. He does seem to be a little OCD as he just stares at that bush 24/7, a trait I’m sure he must have picked up from Larry. The items in this room provided with the “furnished” apartment are the square storage mounted on the wall and matching platform the TV is sitting on plus the dining table and four of the chairs. There were two old unmatched couches and coffee table in there too but we asked the landlord to remove them. Everything else in the room, to include the lighting, rugs and window coverings are ours. One of the couches converts to a queen size bed to handle guest overflow.
Master bedroom/bath – the 2000 restoration also included the frescoes in this room, fortunately depicting live songbirds, and is pleasant to look at each morning while deciding when to get out of bed. That was also when the previous owners had the brilliant idea to add the on-suite bathroom (with shower and bidet) and walk-in closet. The bed w/mattress, two night stands, dresser and mirror were provided with the apartment (all early IKEA). Everything else is ours.
On the other side of the apartment is a hallway from which you enter the following three rooms. These rooms all have beautiful exposed wood beam ceilings.
Guest bedroom – where you will sleep when you visit. All the furniture in this room was provided with the apartment and we just added the linens, drapes and lamps. If you were to open the drapes and shutters you could likely say hello to the young lady in the building across our narrow street that frequently hangs out her window and smokes while talking on her cell phone (which Gary can confirm).
Guest/my bathroom – since the on-suite in the master bedroom area is very small, I use the much larger “family bathroom” for myself. This comes with a contoured tub that is just my size and a hand-held shower, which requires a bit of practice to master while balancing on the contoured floor of the tub. They have retained some of the early brick arches in this room and completed it with lovely tile, to include the floor. To repeat the shape of the arches a mirror was installed in the tub area. This has a lovely effect upon entering the room, however, when you are standing in the tub trying to maintain control of the hand-held shower it is a bit disconcerting. (Which our first guest, Laura, can attest to.) You get over it once you get use to seeing your mother naked and, let’s face it ladies, for many of us that is pretty much what you’re looking at.
Larry’s office – called a “studio” in Italy. This room is another plus we never expected which has been newly furnished by IKEA.
Terrace – we are still overwhelmed that we have such a large outdoor area, which is quite rare in a city apartment. It is a dream-come-true for two ex-Californians. Sergio said his daughter use to ride her tricycle up and down this terrace and I will always have this picture in my head when I’m out there enjoying the fresh air.
My cucina – the kitchen is a good size and has French doors onto the terrace, which I love, and is the only room in the house with a “standard” ceiling. Two of the original brick arches have been retained in this room as well. With a few portable items from IKEA and the efficient contemporary lighting Larry installed, it is now quite functional and a wonderful space to spend time in. We purchased a hutch to house glassware and dishes, a small kitchen table and two stools, plus a kitchen island that holds all my pots and pans conveniently underneath.
The built-in refrigerator provided was not too bad, maybe chest high. However, the freezer capacity was about four ice trays and as “daughter of the freezer queen” this would not do. So we headed to the electronics store (which is also happy to see us arrive) to purchase a small freezer. Because of a special promotion, it ended up we could get an entire refrigerator/freezer for just a little more. Refrigerators here are narrow and the capacity is still rather small by American standards, but very ample for Italy. The freezer area consists of three deep drawers with two little ice trays (I purchased four more) but plenty of room for the necessities – homemade chicken stock, lemon chicken breasts, pesto, spaghetti sauce, gelato and a few out-of-season frozen vegetables. It should be more energy-efficient than the old one too. The old refrigerator is turned off and used for storage but will provide handy additional refrigerator space when we have a party.
I have a funky little sink/gas stove combination built into the corner cabinet that allows only one person to cook and/or wash dishes at a time. There isn’t much space between the four variable BTU burners so you can only have two pots on the stove at a time. Once you accept that you can only have one large pot and a small pan (or two medium pots) on the stove at a time, it is actually not as bad as it looked initially. And once Larry installs a new faucet, it will be quite good. (He is hesitating attacking Italian plumbing, but I have confidence he can do it.) Then I have the totally unexpected, but so appreciated, dishwasher to make life easier.
To keep our lives simple here in Italy, the challenge is to see what we can live without. So far I have only purchased three knives, just the pots and pans I use every day and a few Pyrex bake/serve pieces. I’m living without a toaster because the broiler in our little oven makes toast just fine and can actually toast many tiny slices of our wheat bread at a time. The oven is small by American standards and installed very near the floor, but is an efficient convection oven. We did purchase a small microwave and it is hard to find one that is not a convection oven and grill (broiler), essentially serving as a second oven if needed. We purchased an espresso machine (not one with the plastic pods) and after actually reading the directions I realized that it can be used just to heat water so you can make coffee and tea with it as well. Our last kitchen appliance we decided to purchase was a Kenwood multi-tasking mixer (Europe’s Kitchen Aid). It has two motors with food processor, blender and juicer attachments and is an ideal solution with limited storage space. I purchased a rolling stand that matches my kitchen island to house the Kenwood and all its attachments so when I need to use it I can just roll it over to the kitchen island. I reminded Larry not to purchase the pasta, meat grinder or grain mill attachments for this machine as I would not use them. Yes, I had visions of kneading a mound of semolina flour and bright orange eggs into fresh pasta, but there are shops here dedicated just to fresh pastas plus you can even get it in my grocery store. Sad story – a couple weeks ago when I was totally enjoying the time in my new kitchen preparing dishes for our first party, I was leaning over the kitchen island at an odd angle. I happen to look down and back and saw this flabby incredibly wrinkled flesh of a person that must be a century old. As I slowly turned around to see who’s arm that could be, the realization hit me that I was by myself and that arm had to belong to me – Ewwwwwwwwe! Well, something will have to be done about that but I’m sure it will involve monotonous repetitions and sweat. Or, maybe I can just get rid of all my sleeveless tops!
So you may ask when I will tell stories of the characters in the outdoor market, now that I have my own kitchen and am cooking again. That was another romantic vision, a la Frances Mayes, and that may work well in a smaller town where some things are not available. However, I have since developed a different attitude toward Ascoli’s daily produce market and the twice weekly expanded market selling shoes, clothes, table linens, kitchenware, lots of leather goods, an array of cheap imported trinkets, meats cheeses, pastries and so on. Maybe one of my new friends will someday enlighten me, but for now I don’t know the vendors in the local outdoor markets. I don’t know where they live or where their products come from. So my current feeling is that when there are shopkeepers in Ascoli who sell the same food and non-food items, especially in this economy, give them the business. I’d rather give my business to the jovial local butcher, or the nice couple who own the small vegetable/fruit market a couple blocks away, or the knowledgable lady in the salumi shop who sells cured meats and cheeses, or the two brothers with a great sense of humor* who have the COAL’s grocery store franchise down the street. I’d rather purchase my shoes and clothes from the family-owned shops and franchises in town and feel confident they will sell me quality products because they must depend on repeat business from their neighbors to survive. IKEA notwithstanding, I try and purchase what we need in town and if I cannot find it I then go out to the shopping center to the bigger stores. After my experience starting Renaissance Gifts I have a great deal of respect for small businesses and what they have on the line and even in La Mesa was willing to pay a bit more to shop there.
*Now when I go into my grocery store and say Buongiorno! one of the brothers has taught the employees to respond Good Morning!