Umbria: A room with a view

IMG_1198PERUGIA – We ditched cars for this vacation and have been walking or riding trains. The train from Florence to Perugia, in Umbria, is about a two-hour ride through a countryside that is redolent of western Sonoma County. My grandfather was born on the Swiss-Italian border and he wound up in Sebastopol, and it’s easy to understand why.

From the train you can see vineyards and olive orchards but also rows of corn and sunflowers. You also see small farms, with rolled bales of straw, and lots of sheep.

IMG_1183The train makes a lot of short stops. Some of the towns have old castles and other interesting architecture. One of them is Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis.

The train climbs into the mountains, passing through short tunnels, and it also passes by Lake Trasimeno, whose waters are good for swimming. “I was so taken by this splendid vision that I never forgot it, and it has become the stay or, at least, the setting for most of my paintings,” wrote Gerardo Dottori, the Italian Futurist painter.

We spent the night in Perugia (about halfway between Rome and Florence). It covers a high hilltop and is crossed by the Tiber river. The history goes back to the Etruscan era. It also is a universities town — and, yes, the home of the infamous Amanda Knox murder trial.

The views to the valley below are astounding, and you could spend days exploring the region. We sat in our hotel room with a glass of wine and admired the sweeping views, with the sound of church bells (and Vespas) below.

10402992_10152627251372948_4842600984997830284_nThe swimming pool at our hotel was one-of-a-kind: “”Floating in the crystal-clear water of the pool you find yourself swimming over the age-old remains of an Etruscan settlement which are protected by glass.”

We are going to Rome next, where we’ll wrap up our trip visiting the Vatican, the Colosseum and Pompei. We fly home via Stockholm.



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Our local world-class fiddler Fraser joins “James Bond” in supporting an independent Scotland

Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas at Fairgrounds in July, by John Taber, Live Shots (

Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas at Fairgrounds in July, by John Taber, Live Shots (

From the blog of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:

Forget about the State of Jefferson. I’m reading an article in the “International New York Times” while on vacation in Italy this week titled “The stars collide over Scotland”: Eight weeks before a referendum on whether Scotland should break away from Britain and become an independent country, the Yes and No camps have stepped up their campaigning – not just down at the grass-roots but also among the stars.”

Sean Connery, Annie Lennox and Alan Cumming all favor independence, while Emma Thompson, David Bowie and J.K. Rowling all want Scotland to stay, as the Times reports.

As it turns out, our local resident and world-class Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser is in the independence camp, along with “James Bond”. Back on June 9, I was listening to a KVMR interview with Fraser. (Pssst….rumor has it that Alasdair Fraser is going to be in studio on the Monday Morning Show, 9am hour, 89.5 fm, streaming, to tell us all about fiddle camp. He may even bring a fiddle or violin into the studio. Violin? Well, he’ll also be talking about a Music in the Mountains event… Make a date to Alasdair about Monday, probably 915ish.”

I’m a big fan. We’re Facebook friends and Twitter friends, and we attended his recent Fiddle Camp concert at the Fairgrounds, hosted by Music in the Mountains. Alasdair is featured in our magazine’s Summer issue, under an article “We’ve got Talent.”

I enjoyed the interview on June 9 and wish KVMR had archived it on a podcast (at least I couldn’t find it), because he made news in discussing his support for an independent Scotland.

Since then Fraser has Tweeted regularly for the “yes” campaign:
•Independence is a reflection of our confidence as a Nation.. #indyref #VoteYES #yesscotland #indyreasons #YES2014
•Strange its okay to have a discussion on ‘British values’ but talking of ‘Scottish values’ seen as problematic. Some consistency helpful.
•#indyref gives @scottishlabour voters a chance to “reclaim their party” by backing independence

“Scotland has been England’s junior partner in Britain since 1707. But three centuries is no time at all in the view of many Scots, who have demanded self-determination, on and off, ever since,” as the Times reports. “That prospect is now nearer than ever, with a vote on Sept. 18. So far, polls give the stay-united camp a near consistent majority of the vote, though many of them show that at least 10 percent of voters have yet to make up their mind.

“Mr. Connery, 83, who reportedly has a ‘Scotland Forever’ tattoo and says he might move back to Scotland if it secedes, recently wrote in the New Statesman that ‘the opportunity of independence is too good to miss.’”

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A visit to Firenze

Chalk Art

Chalk Art

FIRENZE – This is a flat, walkable city, and we’re making the most of it and enjoying our “family time” together. We are staying in the heart of Florence, an easy walk to amazing artwork, cathedrals, dining and shopping.

We are two short blocks from Caffe Gilli, the oldest cafe in Florence and one of the most beautiful in Italy. “Coffee shops watch time go by and Gilli has been doing just this for over 270 years,” reads a book about the cafe in the lobby of our hotel. The cafe is impressive with its Murano chandeliers, frescoed ceilings, arches and angular bar counter.

We enjoyed Pistachio gelato (our son had chocolate) in a “proper” glass bowl while relaxing outdoors and reflecting on our journey so far. The pastries, chocolates and fruit drinks also are popular.

The cafe sits on the piazza della Repubblica, perfect for people watching. We also rode on the merry-go-round in the plaza, though our son asked that the photo of him on a merry-go-round not show up on “Dad’s Facebook page.” (He is in the “Joe Cool” stage). The wooden horses’ tails are made of real horse hair. (I don’t know if that’s cool or not).

It is just a short walk to the Duomo di Firenze and past that, the Palazzo Medici. As many of you who have visited Florence know, the artwork is astounding. The frescos are spectacular; you just gaze up at them in awe. The wealth in the Palazzo Medici is mind-boggling — a “mini-Hearst Castle.”

Though crowded this time of year, it’s comfortable getting around and cooler than at home, judging from the weather reports on our iPhone. We cooled down at a public swimming pool called La Pavoniere, set within the largest park in the city. It included an ancient villa and poolside bar.

We are not big shoppers, but our hotel is surrounded by world-class shopping. I would have bought some of the fabulous glassware, but didn’t want to cart it around in our suitcase. I collected some business cards instead.

I bought a comfortable pair of Italian-made sandals — better for long walks. We also bought some Ladurée macaroons, made in France but a longtime favorite.

Art is everywhere. We saw some chalk art on the street that was first class. Back at home, we were reminded of the “Chalk the Walk” art event on October 4 at the Gold Miners Inn in Grass Valley. Community Canvas is partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nevada County that is benefiting youth within our community.

The “International New York Times” is delivered to our room daily. The headlines are disconcerting: “E.U. weighs steps as bodies returned” from the jetliner shot down in the Ukraine, and “Truce may hinge on the fate of Israeli soldier.”

Later in the week, we’re off to Perugia on the train, before going to Rome. Perugia is a wonderful place in the heart of Umbria. But it’s also the home of the Amanda Knox murder trial, which has received intense international media scrutiny. I guess it’s time to put the newspaper down and go for a walk.


Palazzo Medici gardens

Palazzo Medici gardens

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Venice: Terrazzo lights and Vivaldi and drones! Oh my!


View from terrace at Hotel Danieli

VENEZIA – This city has beautiful Terrazzo tile floors, thanks to the nearby town that made the floors famous. But don’t let those “worldly” Nevada City naysayers fool you: Venice also is known for its terrazzo lights, including year-round ones. And they are magical at night.

This past weekend Venice held its annual Festa del Redentore, giving thanks to the end of a terrible plague in the 1500s that killed tens of thousands of locals. Boats lined the Grand Canal, festooned with balloons and garland. Locals feasted on fresh seafood, and a fireworks display lit up the night sky.

Terrazzo lights

Terrazzo lights

The next day most of the brightly colored lanterns were removed — but the terrazzo lights inside were left intact.

You can’t help but be reminded of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Disneyland, Lido Island in Newport Beach and even the Campanile at UC Berkeley when you’re tooling along the Grand Canal in the pubic vaperrato, but this “version” of Venice is the real deal.

We enjoyed going to church at Basilica di San Marco  (where the line was much shorter than the one for tourists) and gazing up at the ornate tile ceilings.

The nearby St. Mark’s Campanile is a wonder, with its gold weathervane. We sat at Caffè Florian, the historic coffee bar in St. Mark’s Square, and watched the activity while a small orchestra played classical music. We dodged some pigeon poop.

We visited museums such as the Naval History Museum and Peggy Guggenheim Collection, art galleries, hotels such as the Gritti Palace and enjoyed the fresh, local food. Seafood from the Adriatic Sea is a specialty. We visited the year-round famers market at the Rialto Bridge, with fresh-caught fish and veggies grown on nearby islands. At breakfast, we drank our juice out of colorful glasses designed by the Massimiliano Schiavon Art Team on Murano Island.

Vivaldi concert

Vivaldi concert

At night, we listened to a string ensemble play classical music from Vivaldi (who was born in Venice) at an outdoor concert in the courtyard of an historic building.

One of the more bizarre sights occurred at the Hotel Danieli, where we were enjoying cocktails on the terrace overlooking the Grand Canal. All of a sudden a drone appeared overhead, apparently capturing us on camera. Our son videotaped the drone (see below).

Best of all, we enjoyed our journeys off the beaten path to explore the less crowded fingers of the canals of Venice. Our hotel was in a locals’ neighborhood, which we appreciated.

Venice is not without its problems: Once the center of a trading empire, it now suffers from a declining population, due to a lack of jobs and the crippling cost of living. It is gradually sinking too.

A few years ago some locals staged a “funeral” to mourn the decline of its resource of people.

We’re on vacation, to be sure. But we’re also interested in exposing our son to Europe and its vibrant history. He is having a blast.

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Stone Brewing Co. to be first American craft brewer to own brewery in Europe

From the blog of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:

The 10th largest craft brewer in the United States, Stone Brewing Co. of Escondido, Ca., announced plans this weekend to open a production brewery and expansive destination restaurant in Berlin, Germany.

With an anticipated opening in late 2015 or early 2016, Stone is making an initial investment of more than $25 million to renovate a historic gasworks complex in Marienpark Berlin, turning the more than two acres (9,290 square meters) of indoor and outdoor space into a world-class operation that will welcome beer enthusiasts from around the globe.

Stone will be the first American craft brewer to independently own and operate a brewery in Europe. Stone Brewing Co. – Berlin will encompass three components: a brewery and packaging hall, a Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurant and a Stone Company Store.

“This is a historic moment for Stone. I’ve wanted to say these next words for many years now: We’re coming to Europe. We’re coming to Germany. We are coming to Berlin!” said Stone CEO and Co-founder Greg Koch.

“It has been a long time coming and I couldn’t be more proud to say that we are finally on our way to being the first American craft brewer to own and operate our own brewery in Europe. Once open, we will bring Germany and the rest of Europe a taste of our craft beer vision, and look forward to sharing the unique beers that we have spent the last 18 years brewing.”

The rest of the article is here.

-By Stone Brewing Co.

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Will marijuana ordinance “get out the vote” in November?

Editor’s note: The local GOP is opposing “Measure S,” the marijuana ordinance, while the local Democrats are supporting it. The details are below. The voter turnout in June was dismal, and I wonder if the marijuana ordinance will improve the turnout.

The Nevada County Democrats voted on Thursday to endorse Measure S, the Medical Marijuana ordinance on the Nevada County ballot in November 2014, according to a news release from Democratic Central Committee Chair Jim Firth.

The Nevada County Democratic Central Committee heard a one-hour presentation from Measure S proponent Patricia Smith that included discussion of its features and time for questions and answers, the release states. The Committee then deliberated for another half hour to make sure members “fully understood the positive benefits not only to patients, but also to our community as a whole.”

“The Committee feels Measure S is the sensible solution to providing medicine to patients suffering from a variety of chronic conditions like, seizures, cancer, arthritis, glaucoma, or multiple sclerosis,” Firth stated in the release. “Medical Marijuana can sometimes provide relief to patients who are not relieved by conventional medicines.

The current ordinance passed by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors in May 2012 without thorough review or adequate input from the community resulted in a countywide petition drive to place this item before the voters. The petition garnered over 11,000 valid signatures, but was delayed until the November 2014 election.

According to the release, Measure S provides strict limitations on the number of plants grown outdoors in rural zones; forbids outdoor growing on residential lots of less than 2 acres; adheres to the State of California setback standards; and reverses “non-sensical restrictions like not growing plants on hillsides.”

“The criticism that Measure S lacks enforcement provisions is groundless,” the release states. “Measure S intentionally and appropriately leaves enforcement to county officials. Furthermore, there are adequate laws in place to address the illegal activities of drug peddlers, or those who cause environmental damage, such as illegally diverting water or allowing toxins to pollute our streams and rivers.

“We encourage all thinking voters to read the language of the ordinance. It can be found at the Americans for Safe Access web site We urge voters not to be misled by false statements and hyperbole. The “negative impacts” have been mitigated while allowing for responsible cultivation of medical marijuana.”

•Resolution of the Nevada County Republican Party Opposing Measure S

WHEREAS, the Nevada County Republican Party supports the protection of personal property rights and the rights of all to enjoy the beauty and outdoors of Nevada County;

WHEREAS, the Nevada County Republican Party supports the rights of County residents to the quiet enjoyment of their own property;

WHEREAS, the Board of Supervisors have carefully deliberated on the issue of legal marijuana growing within the County boundaries and have set reasonable laws, regulations, restrictions and consequences for growers;

WHEREAS, the current rules and regulations governing the growth of legal marijuana in the County for medicinal purposes is sufficient;

WHEREAS, Measure S has qualified for the November ballot and seeks to expand the rights of marijuana growers without protecting the right of individual property owners;

WHEREAS, Measure S significantly reduces and in many instances eliminates the ability of County law enforcement to enforce growing restrictions;

WHEREAS, the Nevada County Republican Party believes that the expansion of marijuana growing rights under Measure S would be detrimental to the residents of this County by impinging upon the quiet enjoyment of personal property by having to be subjected to: odors, fumes, pesticides, ground water contamination, creased crime and health concerns related to expanded marijuana growing;

WHEREAS, the passage of Measure S will encourage the expansion of illegal marijuana growing by lessening the penalties and impeding the enforcement by County officials; and,
WHEREAS, the only purpose in passing Measure S would be to increase marijuana growing in the county and substantially reduce enforcement measures and penalties for those violating the regulations.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Nevada County Republican Party opposes Measure S and urges all voters (regardless of party affiliation) to protect the health, safety and quiet enjoyment of all County Residents by voting No on Measure S.

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A journey beyond the State of Jefferson

10436129_10203279246413755_4158285333356812790_nLIDO ISLAND, VENEZIA - We are on holiday from the State of Jefferson, starting our journey at the seashore near Venice. When I showed our passports at the front desk of the Hotel Rivamare for check in, the clerk smiled when she read we were from California. I asked her if she knew about the State of Jefferson. She did not.

We are in room  No. 37 with a small Romeo balcony and sweeping view of the Adriatic Sea. It is spotless with new furnishings and goes for 167 Euros a night for a “triple.” The prices are much more reasonable than Venice, just across the lagoon.

We are headed to Venice next, but this is a good place to unwind after a long journey from the state of Jefferson:  swimming in the Adriatic Sea, walking along the beach and eating fresh fish, fruits and veggies. Our son is enjoying the pizza and gelato.

Beautiful Terrazzo tile floors are in our hotel and the restaurant (named after the town near Venice), and we are on the lookout for terrazzo lights.

There is not a whiff of politics on Lido Island, just people outdoors enjoying the weather. We are next door to the Venezia Tennis Club, which includes some well maintained clay tennis courts and a good, reasonable restaurant on the beach, with fresh fish and homemade pizza. It is a locals hangout.

We also are next door to the five-star Excelsior hotel, where the ice tea is infused with fresh peach and the swimming pool is sparkling. We are also near the Hotel Des Bains, the scene of Thomas Mann’s classic Death in Venice.

All is well at home, with one exception: our dear neighbor who is house sitting and watching our dog informed us she was  “skunked” in the front yard, so she gets a bath.





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