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Dear Ceci, Finn, Gus, Kieran and Mary,

I know you are really busy on Easter, and the days leading up to it, too.  Here in Cianciana, where I’m staying in Auntie Elizabeth’s Studio, things are also busy, even though Easter morning began very slowly here, with this sunrise outside the window. It’s actually two doors, with windows, and they open onto my little balcony, so I was able to stand outside the window to take this photo. :

Sunrise, Via Catania

Sunrise, Via Catania

One thing I noticed is that  everybody has been cleaning, during Holy Week!  They throw rugs over their balconies, and then beat them with a broom or stick. Also, I’ve noticed much more laundry handing out during Holy Week, than during other weeks.

The village's main street is the widest, so it's the best place to hang laundry.

The village’s main street is the widest, so it’s the best place to hang laundry.

On Good Friday, many children in town were in the big procession and play that take place every year on this day.

Cianciana Children, waiting for Jesus.

Cianciana Children, waiting for Jesus.

At the main church on Good Friday, a huge statue of Jesus was laid on a bed, and on Holy Saturday night – in the middle of Mass – they took it off the bed, and then this statue appeared over the main altar:

Risen Christ, Easter Sunday

At this side altar, where I go every morning, everything is all set for the great feast. Do you see what’s woven into the rug? Look carefully!

 Agnello Pasquale

Agnello Pasquale

No Easter bunnies, here, but Easter lambs! In fact, sweet ones are baked and sold in all the pastry shops in Cianciana (and all over Sicily – and Italy, too!). These delicious little cakes have marzipan and pistachios inside them. I went to my favorite pastry shop and asked for one. The owner, whose daughter lives upstairs over the pastry shop, makes these Easter Lambs. Here is Gaetano, carefully wrapping up my Easter Lamb:

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And here are the lambs, made by Gaetano’s daughter:
Agnello di Pasqua

Easter Lambs are very, very sweet, believe me. If you five had been here, I could have shared mine with all of you, even baby Mary, who, I hear, is sometimes eating solid food! I miss you all. HAPPY EASTER!

Love, E.B.

One day

Hi, Ceci, Finn, Gus and Kieran!

I remember when Finn said, “You will be away for three months? That’s a long vacation, E.B.!” Like Ceci, Finn, and Gus, I’ve gone to school,   but I also have a lot of vacation time.  I will tell you about what we did one day this week after school

My teacher’s son, Ammon, had his 10th birthday party, and Ann and I were invited. I have been to many children’s birthday parties, but this one was very different for me.

Mommy and daddy know about French children  (there was a book about them recently). Like the French, Italian adults seem “nonchalant” (mommy or daddy can explain!) around their children. Keep reading, to see what I mean.

When it came time to open his birthday presents, Elettra set them all on the ground, and Ammon just tore into them! He had great fun and received some wonderful gifts. I could tell he liked all of them:  a large set of colored pencils, a big picture book about mythology, a nice pair of shorts; our gift – a Lego action figure – he really liked, too.

This video shows Ammon (dark black hair) and his pal Julio; they want to put together the action figure, so Ann is trying to open the plastic bag. His mother, Elettra, is there (her mouth is full of delicious Birthday Tart!), and so is Mauro, the director of our school. We really like Elettra and Mauro, and it was fun seeing them outside of school.

After the gifts, some of the kids grabbed pieces of the strawberry-and-cream birthday tart, but most of them preferred the tart topped with Nutella.  For the rest of the party, they were around near us,  or ran around the park, playing on their own. This short video shows one of the games they made up. Can you tell what they are doing?

The adults stood around chatting and eating tarts. Mauro had brought  drinks. They were in recycled water bottles, so when he poured me a glass,  I thought I was drinking bottled water…until I tasted the cool, dry white WINE!

We knew it was time to go when we saw Ammon’s little brother, Emilio (he is your age, Finn). He had fallen asleep in his mommy’s arms.

On the way home, we stopped to watch 2 alfieri practicing their flag-tossing.  We have seen them and the other Siena alfieri  many times, marching and twirling their flags. They have always been in their costumes.  These are the two main flag-throwers for their contrada, which is called Onda, or “wave” – their colors are blue and white. About 30 other Onda alfieri march in front of them in the parades we have seen.  The alfieri  all start practicing when they are very young, about Ceci’s age, hoping to become THE BEST, like these two.

In this picture, they have just thrown their flags in the air. Sometimes they threw them way over the heads, other times they passed them under their legs, like daddy  with a basketball. And they never missed!  Their coach was sitting on the side. He seemed happy with their work.

Walking across the city to the apartment, we decided to stop for a gelato. It was time for the Passegiata, the time after dinner  when everyone in the city goes out for a walk. I think mommy would like these shoes, don’t you?

A wedding had just taken place, too, so the bride and groom came to the Campo, Siena’s main piazza. The groom (pink jacket) is drinking a Spritz, a drink that Ann and I often enjoy on the Campo in the late afternoon. 

As we ended our walk, we passed through the contrada where we live. It is called  Selva (it means “forest,” and its colors are green and orange and white). They were having a party to open the contrada garden, so we joined them.


Hi to Ceci, Finn, Gus and Kieran!

You will be celebrating this special week with Grandpa Tom  ( I just saw a   great video about his St Thomas award). Probably you will eat lots of his 70th birthday cake with the cousins, too. 

This has made me start to  think about food you might  like here in Tuscany, so I will  tell  you about some of it.

In the morning when I am out walking, I often stop at  Caffetteria Diaccetto. I usually just have an espresso, but sometimes I have one of these pastries.

When it is hot in the afternoon, I usually have some gelato from Grom’s. Here is the list of May Flavors. You can read some of them, Ceci, and mommy or daddy can tell you the others. I am still trying looking for  a flavor I don’t like!

We usually eat lunch at home. Mommy would love the salads we make here! Artichokes are in season, so we have them chilled. Eggplant is in season, so we have it grilled (on the stove – no oven!), then sometimes we chill it and just eat it cold, later in the day.

 Sometimes we make dinner at home, too.  Last week I made asparagus and gorgonzola risotto.

About a week ago,  our Italian class and Ann and I made a special Siena pasta called “pici”. We mixed flour and water and a little oil, then stirred for awhile. After that, we took little globs of the dough and rolled them into worms. 


Finally, we boiled the pici, poured on some olive oil, then sprinkled it with cheese 

Last week our friend Megan came to visit . We went to a very small restaurant called “La Torre”.  All ten  tables are right next to the kitchen. It would be like knocking down your wall and stairs — so  you could watch dinner being made from the dining room!

The owner was very funny. He told  Megan she should order the ravioli with butter and sage. She did not, but I did, and it was incredibile.

I also ordered fish.

When we finished, the owner came over and WITHOUT LOOKING AT A LIST OR A MENU, told us everything we had ordered, from aperitivo to the last espresso!  Then he went to  the bar, which is right next to the kitchen, where his son was having a drink.  At the bar, he  figured out how much our dinner cost. You can see them both in this picture. The dad looks angry, but I think he is just trying to figure out the cost of our dinner.


Yesterday, we drove into the mountains to visit the town of Volterra. 

It is famous for alabaster. It is sort of like marble-top table in our entryway in St Paul. One difference is you can often see light shining right through alabaster! The photo at the top of this page shows a craftsman finishing a small vase he had just created.  I took this 30-second  video while he was still working on the vase.


 For lunch we had Torta di Ceci. Yes! “Ceci” is another way to say “garbanzo beans”. The Torta is thin like pita bread, and made with ceci  flour, then filled with mushed-up cecis!

The pizza chef mixes everything in a pan on top of the stove.

Then he bakes it in this brick oven.

It is very  crispy on the outside, and gooey with ceci beans on the inside. I know you’d love it…

                                                     (I REALLY DID!)