Todi as Teacher: Christina’s blog post on Becoming Italian, Word by Word

When Dianne Hales, author of the excellent and informative book, La Bella Lingua, My Love Affair with the World’s Most Enchanting Language, asked me to write an article for her blog Becoming Italian Word by Word, I was thrilled. Not only is Dianne a talented writer and obviously one of the world’s most devoted adult Italian students, but she has a tremendous appreciation for people, like me, who devote their lives to teaching “la bella lingua”. She has said to me more than once, “Italian teachers are my heroes!”. Makes a girls’ day. You can subscribe to Dianne’s blog and read my article, “Todi as Teacher”, as well as many others sure to be of interest here.

One of my many goals is to have Dianne herself experience Two Weeks in Todi with me. Magari!


Unforgotten Italy

I’m so thankful to my best friend, writer Martha McPhee, for this article, “Unforgotten Italy“, which she wrote about her experiences with me in Todi. Thanks to More Magazine and Martha, so many women from around the country have discovered the wonders of Umbria and fulfilled their dream of learning Italian (or at least starting on that journey!).

Join me in Todi : 2011 Dates!



June 25 – July 9

Sept 17 – Oct 1
Immerse yourself in Italy!

More info and enrollment options on the Speak! website!

Reflections on Two Weeks in Todi

Just before popping open the prosecco at our final dinner, I asked some Two Weeks in Todi participants to share their experiences with me and my flip camera. Shot at sunset against the backdrop of Roccafiore, a boutique hotel, spa, winery and restaurant a few miles outside of Todi.

Todi is for language lovers : La Lingua, La Vita

I thank the day that my husband and I decided to stop and stretch our legs in Todi during a drive from Rome to Pisa. It was the summer of 2006 and I was already searching for the perfect location for an Italian immersion program in Italy…if only I could find the perfect school, one that shared the same vision of making language learning intensely personal, social and fun. In Todi, we stopped for coffee at a bar just steps from the stunning Piazza del Popolo. An Italian teacher myself, I quickly spotted a few non-Italians – a Japanese woman and an Austrian man – standing at the counter and could tell from their notebooks that they were students of  Italian. When I asked them if there was a language school in Todi, they simultaneously began telling me about the fabulous little school above the cafe’:  La Lingua, La Vita  – amazing teachers, fun and interactive lessons, the chance to live with a host family and truly become part of the fabric of life in Todi. Less than a year later, I returned to Todi to spend 3 days getting to know the school created by my now dear friend Stefania Belli, a gifted educator who embraced a teaching philosophy  which couldn’t be closer to the heart of what we believe and practice at Speak! :  teach to the whole person (body, mind, spirit), teach also by making the student part of the life of the town, involve lots of conversation and culture. After just one day of visiting classes, host families, apartments and getting to know the people of  Todi I was convinced I had found not only the perfect location, but the perfect school. Five years later, I am still amazed by the school Stefania created, by her dedicated faculty and staff and by the incredibly strong support system offered by the people of Todi – from host families to hair stylists. They all make Two Weeks in Todi the immersion experience of a lifetime.  Grazie, Stefania!

Marcello’s Edible Umbria

For about 150 years, the Giovenali family have been curating the edible wonders of Umbria – award-winning olive oils, black truffles, pecorino cheese, salumi of all sorts, umbricell pasta, honey and historic wines like Sagrantino (from Montefalco) and Orvieto. Every year I introduce my group to Marcello, current defender of Umbria’s edible and drinkable traditions. He proudly tells us the history of his family business – from his nonno’s portable wooden shop to the museum-like current location on Todi’s main shopping street, Via Cavour – and leads us on an item by item tour of his shop.  A fountain of knowledge, there seems to be no question without an eloquent, detailed answer. Many of us shopped regularly at Giovenali during our stay and found it to be a formidable classroom for mastering lessons on Umbria’s most stellar products…especially when generous tasting samples were involved! A few of us even took advantage of his ability to ship boxes full of wine, oil and shrink-wrapped cheese and salumi, back to the States, leaving more room in our suitcases for other purchases!

This short film contains a brief interview with Marcello (challenge your ear…it’s in Italian!) as well as lots of images of his impeccable shop. My favorite quote appears at the end of the film when Marcello is assuring a customer from Piemonte of his integrity as a merchant: “Se una cosa non va bene,  non la faccio uscire dal negozio” (If it’s not good, I don’t let it out of the store.”). Of course, he wouldn’t let it in there either!

Concert at La Consolazione: The Archer Family Trio

Despite her elegant, seemingly shy demeanor, Mary Ann Archer is a woman who gets things done. When she was little, she decided she wanted to be a musician and so that’s just what she became — she has been playing the flute professionally for years, primarily at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Mary Ann also team teaches an Italiano all’Opera course at Speak!, one of our most popular. So when we were in Todi last August and she casually mentioned her desire to perform in the town’s most historic and beloved church, il Tempio della Consolazione, together with her husband, Frank Archer, I didn’t have any doubts. And so, nearly a year later, just after landing in Todi with Frank and her two children, Sarah and Geoff, Mary Ann managed to set a date for the concert with the parish priest for the following week on June 23rd. She and Frank had already designed the evening’s program – a musical Grand Tour – and even brought a stack of printed programs in her suitcase. And so, on a perfect Tuesday evening,  everyone in our group strolled down the hill from Todi and, joined by many friends and fans from Todi, we were entertained and inspired by the Archer family’s musical collaboration.  Frank brought the impressive new (old-style) organ to life while Mary Ann dazzled with her flute and piccolo, joined by Sarah (also on flute) for a few precious duets. No wonder that when we shared our “favorite Todi experiences” at our final dinner, more than a few in our group named the Archer concert as the pinnacle. It was the ultimate sign of how everyone in our group became part of the fabric of life in Todi.

Where to eat in Spoleto: Il Tempio del Gusto

Well aware of the excellent reputation of chef Eros Patrizi and his exquisite little restaurant in Spoleto – Il Tempio del Gusto – I made a point of calling ahead to reserve our group lunch on Saturday.  In Italy, reservations are always recommended and highly appreciated. Even in Todi, where I am on a first name basis with many of the restaurant proprietors, I make a point of reserving a table at least 4 or 5 hours in advance. When my attempts to call Tempio del Gusto’s regular line failed (I kept getting the fax), I went ahead and called the cell phone number listed on their business card. Chef Eros himself answered the phone, and when I told him I wanted to reserve for my large group of 15 he seemed to think that would be no problem at all on a Saturday in June during the Spoleto Festival. He was so friendly and casual that I wasn’t even sure he had taken down my name or any other details. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When we worked our way up the tranquil, shop-lined and traffic-free streets and alleys of Spoleto and finally made it to Tempio del Gusto’s outdoor patio (10 or so tables in a gorgeous and quiet little piazza), the chef came out within seconds to greet us and let us know that he had a special table ready for us inside the diminutive, elegant and artistically-decorated restaurant.

We were escorted to a beautiful white room, table elegantly set. As members of our groups straggled in, chairs and place settings were quickly and seamlessly added. Within minutes, welcome platters of crostini and lardo di colonnata and pecorino drizzled with the chef’s own balsamic vinegar cream appeared before our eyes. Bottles of local white and red were opened and we eventually decided on our orders from the tempting selections. A few of us opted for the fixed price menus  (a steal at 35 euros, including wine, dessert and caffe’!) :  “menu mare” – thinly sliced octopus salad, fettuccine with prawn, seared tuna and a citrus sorbet or the “menu del territorio”, which starred several black truffle dishes so the chef, naturally, came out a few times to grate the tubers directly onto our dishes.

As a storm passed over they city, we tasted and talked for three hours – in true “pranzo italiano” style. By the time we emerged from this “Temple of Taste” the sky had cleared and so we strolled and window-shopped for a few more hours before departing for Todi, just as a rainbow appeared over Spoleto. Un’altra giornata perfetta!

Archery with the Archers

Arcus Tuder is an archery club of about 26 men and (a few) women who meet to practice at their outdoor range (equipped with a grill and tables, naturally) and also compete (occasionally in medieval costume) around the region and the country. Carlo Rellini, whose wife taught us cooking last week, invited a group of 12 of us to join him and his fellow master archers for a 2 hour archery lesson. Clear, patient and funny, they taught us all the basics of this historic sport and generously lent us their bows and arrows despite our novice level of ability. Not surprisingly, Geoff and Sarah Archer seemed to be innately gifted, but they weren’t the only ones. I think more than a few of us will be looking into archery lessons back home. Who knows, maybe we’ll even compete in medieval garb in Bevagna next year!

Horses, wildflowers and ricotta: Castelluccio di Norcia

This film captures the natural and edible splendor of our Sunday excursion to Castelluccio di Norcia, located in the Monti Sibillini about 2.5 hours southwest of Todi. Well worth the drive!

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