Tag Archives: Italia

Autumn home and away

We finally made it back to Italy.

I17-fonte pacile

New needy house, new needy dog, future uncertainties, and the fluctuating costs of travel kept us away for the last few years. It was all over in a flash though, and I’ve never been less interested in returning to my home country…

I17-monte amaro

But for a few brilliantly sunny days we hiked some familiar and new trails, ate some familiar and new food, and stuck much closer to the familiar little city, but in a new little house.

I like mountains. #italia #appenini #abruzzo #majellanationalpark

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We were oddly thwarted from many planned days – mountain passes closed (since just after we were there last 3 years ago!), restaurants too crowded for lunch, other places inexplicably shuttered – but we found other routes and other places and all was fine in the end.

I17-celano golle-n & tree

Even better than fine – my shredded knees kept their complaining to a minimum and I finally felt their restrictive grip released a bit for the first time in years.

(And Italy is always downright magical in terms of taking away all of my allergies and mild dairy/digestive issues…)

But there’s always one hike that flirts with going very wrong in every trip, right? One new-to-us trail that was supposed to be an easy/lazy couple hour meander suitable for infants and elderly (according to a tourist map) took a turn for the tired, sweaty, and absurd and involved mildly frightening encounters with wild boars, an unavoidable boot-sucking mud pit, and hand over hand scrambling underneath power lines.

I17-endurance

It all went tits up when the trail markers ceased and all signs pointed (inexplicably in english) for endurance in all directions. But the tourist map was still accurate for way finding, though it left the infants and elderly in the dust looking for their broken glasses.

And several hitchhikers joined me for a few excursions – the mantis population seemed to have exploded and grown to monstrous proportions.

I17-mantis

And we sought N’s ancestors and ancestral places – finally finding a house (or what was left), but not graves – most of the town was pointlessly annihilated in WWII.

I17-interior

I missed visiting with a few fiber folks and buying wool, but I ate the beast from which it comes and sipped from the same fonts.

The weather was entirely perfect, the autumn in full color, and the markets still stocked with the peaks of harvests.

But autumn is still here at home – even a bit slower perhaps – and the white throated sparrows are back, and the garden is still giving us patty pans, carrots, greens, and a few last winter squash…

It's eat or be eaten… #organicgardening #rampicante #squash #vintagependleton #wintersquash #gardening

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But we also returned to a dead boiler, yet more job rejections for me, and my need to re-enter the shitzoo that passes for public healthcare in this (currently really fucked up) country.

I17-gelato

So while my mountain sunshiny vitamin D high wears off, and I’m not making up work hours, I’m getting my nesting game on – clearing out (or at least organizing) the clutter, shaking out the woolens, considering baking a bit, debating yet again if one of those light alarm clocks is worth the clams, and knitting and spinning with more ferocity to keep my hands warm.

And snuggling with the beast.

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Lana blu

I think I’ve gotten all of the post-vacation brain fog and re-adjustment whining and rambling out of my system.

Abruzzo-clouds

I’ve spent the last week attending a training session and conference in my field, a grad school open house, and doing some networking.  I’ve been getting up at an ungodly hour to take trains to the nearby cities.  It almost felt like I was working again, but  it also made me feel lucky to work the few hours I do from home – I haven’t really seen daylight apart from a quick lunchtime walk for the last few days.  I’m a terrible commuter too – knitting, reading, and doing anything other than staring out of the window on buses and trains gives me motion sickness, so I spend the majority of the time fidgeting and stewing about how much time is being wasted.

But on to more important things, like wool.

A few posts ago, I wrote about meeting Valeria last year in Italy and buying her yarn.  And quite luckily, I was able to meet with her, and fellow fiberphile Antontella again this year.  You can read more about the Damiani Ovid and AquiLANA wool business in one of her recent posts here (Google translator is your friend).  She showed me many new yarns she’s produced this year – from delicate laceweights, to a gorgeous drapey one-ply fingering, to multiple plies in increasing weights up to bulky, and including a one-ply bulky that would probably felt/full quite well.   Luckily for her, she’s sold a good portion of the year’s stock (and for me or I’d spend myself into ruin) so I stuck to only a few skeins of the yarn in the new weights, and more of the aran/bulky I got last year in case I want to do some colorwork.

So when I say colorwork, I mean one color would be this intense lovely shade of blue – the exact color of the mountain sky.

lana

I’ve shied away from blue in the past – it’s one of those colors that I don’t like in the lightest or darkest shades, or in an “electric” form.  But it is also a color I’ve been gravitating to more and more in the past couple of years.  And I love that I have the creamy wool from the colors of the earth and sheep and now the blue wool of the sky.  Even better, the yarn is dyed naturally from Guado (Woad).

Abruzzo-octogonchurch

This trip was all about the blue sky – perfect weather and intense clarity day after day (at least after the first day which had an intense stormy sky that didn’t amount to much.)

plant with butterfly

And several of the alpine plants are blue too (along with the butterfly).  This one is Cardo, a thistle – perhaps also known as Sea Holly – it makes a yellow dye.

Abruzzo-blue door

And the ubiquitous old door – I wish I had a dollar for everyone who “just loves to shoot doors.”  I like old doors too, but I’m not out to make a calendar or something.  But I saw that the faded blue paint was the same color as my new yarn and had to snap it.

Abruzzo-bluebottle

And one of my trusty water bottles and favorite wool zippered jacket/sweater thing are blue too.

Abruzzo-Vasto

And though we haven’t seen it since our first Abruzzo trip in 2008, the Adriatic hugs the region’s eastern boundary, so the blue reminds me of the sea as well.

Valeria also showed me some gorgeous caramel colored yarn and the oak galls she used to dye it – she recently posted about it here too.  I got a couple of natural laceweight skeins with the thought of trying to dye it up myself with galls as well, though perhaps I’ll have to use black walnut since now that I’m looking for oak galls, I can’t find any – perhaps suburban pesticides keep the wasps away?

abruzzo-yarn

The other three blue skeins are a heavy fingering to sport weight.

yarn-laquilana

And along with the aran/bulky skeins, I’m thinking about some hats, or a shawl, or there might even be enough to eek out a short-sleeved lace pullover…

But whatever it might become, the yarn will certainly remind me of the amazing land, people, history, and animals from which it came.

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[Jet] lagging…

I made it to 5:12 a.m. this morning and feel triumphant!  Then I realized it was daylight savings,* so the jet lag beast has been tossed a scrap and is still pacing a bit around the room.  No more middle of the night pancake dinners/breakfasts though, but the last one was quite tasty with the last of our White Mountain edible souvenirs.

pancakes

My brain is still buzzy and unfocused and my body mildly flu-like.  I came home with mountain legs as firm as two well-aged prosciutti, but now they’re returning to their younger non-dead jiggly piglet state.  My body and mind are out of synch with my reality and just want to put one foot in front of the other until a pleasing distance and vista and lunch spot have been reached.

murder on the mountain **

I know it is incredibly pretentious, but I feel more culture shock returning to the U. S. rather than being outside of it (at least in the European bits).  Americans weigh too much, they are sick, they are loud, they drive enormous machines, they wheel enormous luggage, they can be demanding of bedraggled clerks and service workers, their children are wild, and worst of all, they build and live in suburbs – vast expanses of land without sidewalks or farms – utterly purposeless and ugly.

But this is where I was born and legally reside and thanks to N we can leave it once in awhile.

But I’m also just another American wishing she could eat, pray, love (mostly the eating part) under the Tuscan (I’d prefer Abruzzo) sun.  But there are a few things in Italy (and probably Europe in general) that are downright magical that even more increase my desire to stay.

  Dairy.  I have dairy issues in the states – I don’t know if it is lactose or casein or something else, but even when I get the organic grass-fed hoity-toity localish stuff here, I can have problems.  I can tolerate milk, ice cream, cream, etc., about 15% of the time here, so I usually just forgo anything not aged or fermented – cheese and yogurt are ok-ish.  In Italy, I have about a 99% tolerance rate – the only bad dairy experience I’ve had there was from a mediocre cream-based pasta sauce at an even more mediocre tourist trap restaurant in Rome a few years ago.  So I load up on the stuff while I’m there – cappuccino, gelato, cream sauces, oh yeah!  And of course cheese – I especially love the sheep and goat stuff – pecorino dolce, ricotta di capra, caciocavallo etc., etc., etc….

 Allergies.  I barely have them there, and leave behind my constant ropey mucous companion dangling down my throat here.  That probably has a straightforward reason about the different climate and fewer useless expanses of lawns and less proliferation of non-native species with their companion herbicides and pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

So now that I’ve established that my brain is broken, my body atrophying, my nose dripping, and I’m suffering from a vague yogurt induced gut cramp, I must mention fiber – specifically my travel knitting.

I started the first pair of socks since my sock knitting debacle months ago.  Again, my sock mojo is off – I used a bit bigger yarn on my preferred shorty wood needles with my 64 stitch vanilla pattern, thinking it would firm things up and be ok, but they’re big – baggy ankle big.  But I don’t give a damn and still have to finish the leg parts, so I can firm up the upper ribbed section.  I’m constructing them in a strange fashion, but it makes sense in my head and should allow me to use up all the yarn.  I’ve dubbed them my “Nostalgia Socks” as the color reminds me of old quilts, 1970s sweaters, and now my trip.

sock in progress

The colors in this pic are wrong, but accurately portray the weak blue light that just barely stretched down to our nearly subterranean Italian apartment.

nostalgia socksThis is how the color should look – and if you look closely you can see one of the two knots I’ve found so far.

And remember my giddiness over Pigeonroof Studios Mimsy BFL roving?  And even more over the Hitchhiker pattern? I can call it a finished project now since I shoved it in my bag at the last minute.  It was one of those that ended sooner than I was ready to finish, and previously I only let myself knit a few rows here and there as a reward for meeting some goals on my portfolio pieces.  Ok, I may have over-rewarded myself, but this is my favorite handspun yarn to date – the softness and drape are wonderful (if I do say so myself) but most of that is due to the inherent qualities of the fiber itself.

Mimsyhiker on wall

My yardage was less than the suggested amount and I used bigger needles, so I didn’t quite make it to the original 42 points.  Mine is 41 1/2 – instead of a half a point, I just made the last one wider.  I watched 42 on the plane over and hoped I could have that numerical reference as well, but I didn’t quite make the team.

Mimsyhiker & acquedotto

Mimsyhiker & biscotto

I finished it in the first few days we were there, so I was able to wear it again and again and again – it’s finally taking a rest drying from a light blocking to stretch it out a little.

As for acquisitions, I bought some cheap (but ugly) sock yarn, and some cheap (but lovely) mohair in the market.

But of course I bought more of the real thing.

yarn-laquilana

It deserves a post of its own next time.

* Daylight savings happened in Italy last weekend.  We spent a day wondering why none of the cafes were opened when they should have been, rushed to return the rental car when we didn’t have to hurry, and even left for the airport an hour before we needed to – but none of it was the problem it would have been in the spring.

** I love this picture that N took – in the camera it appeared that I had been steamrolled, but now it looks more like a Nancy Drew book jacket for “Murder on the Mountain.”  I love sleeping on mountains – some bedroom designer should get on that – forget beds – rig up a soft inclined meadow and mimic warm sun and chilly breezes in a room instead.

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Trekking, face-stuffing, and of course, wool

I’m back from our few weeks sojourn to Abruzzo.

to the castle

(And yes, those last posts were pre-written and hastily posted from an internet cafe – I wonder how much longer those will exist, and/or how long it will take me to get a smart phone?)

Being away meant I couldn’t go to Rhinebeck this year, but um, I don’t care – though I’m enjoying reading about it.

I’m now suffering through the haze of jet lag (pancakes at 3 a.m. seemed like a good idea at the time…) and clogged ears, the depression of leaving a land I love, and the bureaucratic shitstorm and other items of work I left behind (and which gathered strength instead of my unrealistic hopes of dissipating).  So just a bit now, but more later – especially the wooly bits.

First I must take a moment to praise the porchetta panino.

porchetta portrait

We set an all-time record of eating 4 in one trip (not in one sitting though).

porchetta

And they are the perfect protein-packed porcine pranzo on the trail (even if they get squashed in the pack).

Valle Gentile

Days and days spent in the mountains with near-miraculous perfect weather and autumnal shades.

truffles

And let us not forget pasta – especially with saffron and generous shavings of truffles.

hexagons

And more hexagons too!

traveling yarn

And of course, wool!

Definitely more on that later – here it is on the journey to the states after eating a pretzel in the Frankfort airport.

greenland

And we got one last dose of mountains on the way home with some excellent views of Greenland.

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Terroir in wool

So I yammered on for a few posts about my new yarn and roving from New Mexico a few months ago here and here, but all along I’ve been thinking about the wool I acquired in Italy last autumn.

We were in Abruzzo for a few weeks in September/October 2012, on a mission to hike nearly every day in all three of the relatively new national parks: Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, Parco Nazionale della Majella, and some regional parks and preserves including: Parco Naturale Sirente Velino, Riserva Naturale Regionale Monte Genzana e Alto Gizio, and Riserva Regionale Gole del Sagittario.  We had previously been in the area in 2008, less than a year before the devastating earthquake in the L’Aquila region, and had only a small taste of the hiking then that was later to come.  In the four years since however, more North American tourists have invaded come to the region, and though it is good for the economy, especially the areas still rebuilding, it isn’t the same immersive/escapist experience as it was before.  Now you hear the occasional loudly spoken English (I still can’t get past that someone-will-understand-me-if-I-speak-louder-rather-than-actually-learn-a-word-of-the-language habit), see flip-flops on ugly feet, pay much higher prices for apartment rentals, and stumble around overly large rolling luggage.  But I too am a North American, and a visitor, and have poor language skills, so I can’t be too much of a snob.

I first learned about Valeria and her AquiLANA yarn in a round-about way through ravelry when I posted to an Italian group seeking information about local wool producers.  She and her husband’s family raise sheep in the L’Aquila region – their business, Azienda Agrozootecnica Damiani Ovidio, can be found on Facebook.  Through another ravelry friend, we managed to communicate despite my awful Italian, (thank you Google translator) and because of her friend’s quite good English, to set up a time to meet in her town for a yarn purchase.

AquiLANA - Copy(Photo by Valeria/AquiLANA)

I would love to give more details about her wool and the company, but I’d have to commit to a serious translation session that I am too unfocused to partake in at the moment.  But to say her yarn is fabulous and it comes from these sheep off the mountains is enough for me.

But back to the area for a moment – our time hiking in the parks was simply awesome.  Some of the maps and trail markings were extremely good, some not so, and we had a hiking guidebook that should be burned due to some dangerous misinformation.  Many of the trails also had formerly been mule tracks and were best left for four-legged beasts or those very sure of foot and without any tendencies toward vertigo.  But overall, it was some of the best hiking I’ve done.

(But I’ll pack a few more emergency supplies the next time).

Abruzzo-Corno Grande

Abruzzo-castle

Abruzzo meadow

And of course eating was a nearly spiritual experience.

Can’t get any better to come down off a mountain, stop along the road, and dive into a plate of freshly grilled lamb arrosticini.

Abruzzo-lamb

I’ve purchased wool from small producers at domestic festivals before, but this was the first time the wool smacked me in the face as coming from a very specific place – it had an intense “terroir” if you will.

Laquilana montepulciano

And to make it even more local, some is dyed with Montepulciano wine for a lovely muted rose-grey (this is fingering weight).

AquiLana skeins

At first, I only wanted to buy the Montepulciano-dyed wool because I almost never knit with white/natural.  I don’t have a reason why except that I usually like color more, I fear stains (I like to drink the Montepulciano too), and some whites look really bad on me.  I guess I do have my reasons.  But after spending some time in the mountains with the fluffy clouds, bleached rocks, and flocks of sheep with their fluffy white Maremma guard dogs, I decided that I had to have the color of the land (or, ahem, lamb).

Abruzzo sheep enclosures

See?

Abruzzo sheep

So then my new stash of clear, clean, true wool went from the crisp vast mountains and valleys to the land of exhaust and grime…

AquiLANA in NYC

I have a couple of ideas about what I’d like to do with the yarn, however I’m putting pressure on myself that both items will be my own designs. But I’m also realizing that with the strange turns of my life lately, my self-diagnosed ADD, work on portfolio pieces, and the chaos of everything else, I’m absolutely itching to dive right into this yarn NOW without the bother of critical design thoughts and only the happiness and escapism in remembering the land and enjoying the wool.

Laquilana swatches

I’ve swatched some of the natural wool in aran/bulky weight and it will probably turn into a cable-knit sweater – either something classic/vintage inspired along the lines of the Beatnik Pullover, or more modern like the Roam Tunic.  I’m leaning toward classic though since I pray for the day skinny jeans disappear (and will probably take tunics with them).  Unless of course it could be a dress on its own…

New England-new pattern shadow

The wine yarn will be a shawl, and that pattern is about halfway done, but I’ve run into a few snafus that I need to work out.  I’ll test knit a version of it in recycled yarn before I use the good yarn too, so it will take some time.

The bulky/aran yarn reminds me a little of Quince & Company Osprey – it seems that it may be processed and spun in a similar fashion and has that same lovely soft, sproingy, spongy factor – and maybe even more so.  It is soft, yes, but not weakly soft – almost cottony.  I even washed one of my swatches and it got even better – I wouldn’t say that it bloomed, but the stitch definition relaxed slightly while still being entirely legible.  I’m sure the yarn will wear quite well, yet be very comfortable.

It is already my favorite sweater.

And we’ve made plans for a return trip, so perhaps I may come back with more sheepy souvenirs!

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