The hidden junkyards of Umbria are not really a secret, but I always feel a kind of furtive excitement whenever I come across one, as if somehow I have outwitted the wily dealers at the antique markets and found their precious source. My favourite is on a scrappy bit of farmland nearby, former barns and pig stys stand full of treasure whilst chickens peck amongst the remnants of a much harsher rural life. The owner is locally known by the nickname ‘il Tarlo’, the woodworm.
It may look like an unkempt jumble of damp wood and rusting metal but if you have ‘the eye’ it is so much more. ‘The eye’ is a term that causes much bickering between me and marito as each of us would be loathed to admit that the other one has ‘it’ if, indeed, either of us does. I suppose it simply means seeing potential in something that even Mr Woodworm would be hard pressed to understand, and even harder pressed to try to charge you much for.
As marito points out a beautifully worn metal tabletop, I nod in agreement. It is round and mottled with the oxide colours of rust like an August moon. “That would look great on the wall” he says, I nod again, then he boasts (and I know it’s coming), “You see, I’ve got the eye!”
Of course he may think he has ‘the eye’, but not for long. In one of the dimly lit, corrugated iron sheds, behind a pile of peeling white1960’s hospital doors I glimpse something interesting. We lug it out and, in the light, can see it’s an old red door, the pigment faded to a glorious rosy orange, its bolted together with metal straps and to me seems like the perfect find. “That would make a fantastic table top”, I venture. Marito nods and, quick as a flash, I claim back ‘the eye’!
It’s sad, I know, but we can play this game all day.
I love the way that things can be salvaged, that they can evolve and a door can become a table and a table become a piece of art.
Sometimes, of course, it goes completely wrong and Il Tarlo has the last laugh. I imagine he thinks he's got 'the eye' too.
The best thing I ate today;
Once you have eaten pici, all other pasta seems to pale. The thick, chewy, almost nutty strands of pasta rather like a superior kind of fat spaghetti can carry almost any sauce. It is as good slicked with oil and peperoncini as it is with something more robust.
I think it may be a Tuscan/Umbrian thing but every local menu seems to boast a ‘pici al ragu’ or a 'pici all'anatra' or 'pici al pomodoro' and so on. Traditionally it is made without the addition of egg and I’m sure the very best is hand rolled on the thigh of an ancient Italian Nonna, but luckily there are some surprisingly good varieties available in the local supermarket too!
Where to get it:
At every restaurant in the region of Tuscany and Umbria, also available in most supermarkets and ‘alimentari’. Especially good, both fresh and dried, from COOP Castiglione del Lago.