Monday, November 1, 2010


…in total about a third of the state [is] termed “Mediterranean”
because of climatic analogy with portions of the old world.

Winters are mild and in most areas have considerable sunshine,
interrupted only by the occasional cyclonic storms
that bring most of the yearly precipitation.

David W. Lantis in
California: Land of Contrast

ABOUT MID-OCTOBER, when the sun rides low across the southern sky, when dawn breaks late and evening settles early, when frost may render the roads slick, particularly when following a thick, wet “cyclonic” storm, the riding day is abbreviated. Tours to the high country must wait until the spring thaw. Trips to the Pacific shore involve slicing through chilling banks of fog. A “day ride” might last five hours – starting around ten in the morning and ending well before four. Thus afforded such localized a radius, one rides the common roads looking for the uncommon element: the something missed the hundred previous times the road had been run.

Home base is amidst a suburban cancer – a house within row upon row of similar abodes. Saving grace in this locale is that an escape route exists. One that requires waiting through only one traffic signal. Therefore, on a good day between one of those “occasional cyclonic storms,” I can be coursing down narrow two-lanes, through pastures, orchards, vineyards and flower farms. In moments, I am no longer living on the fringe of Sacramento. I am wheeling through the old-country farmlands of north central Italy. I am in Umbria.

A TINY ROAD leads away from the highly traveled two-lane. Mandarins are found up this way in the late fall. And Christmas trees – fresh in the ground.

AS CONGESTED AS THE REGION CAN SEEM at times, the vast expanse of the Sierran foothills is rural orchard and pastureland.  [Note:  Click on the picture.  It will expand and you can get a gander at the very cool blinder on the horse in the background.]

TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO, the Romans built aqueducts throughout what is now Italy, distributing water not only to Rome, in the central peninsula, but throughout hamlets, villages and cities across the region. Were it not for this infrastructure, perhaps the Christian Church of nine-or-so centuries back would not have relocated its spiritual center to this dry-summer paradise. In California, 1900 years later, we built canals and flumes to transport water for mining, lumbering and agriculture…

…storing some of that water in ponds or reservoirs that nicely reflect the golden hues of autumn.

VILLAGES IN ITALY were crafted out of marble and granite and have stood for twelve hundred years. Here we see an occasional rock-hewn wall.

…and “old” may be defined as something new when great-grandpa built it for the bride he brought out from back east.

ALONG THE ROUTE OF THE CENTRAL PACIFIC, packing sheds became transshipment points for area fruits, vegetables and nuts. Repurposed, this one in Newcastle houses antiques shops and a delightful Italian restaurant called La Fornaretta. Sicilian (not Umbrian) fare with great service, local wines and loads of good cheer.

The oldest part of Newcastle looks frozen in time.

AROUND ANY BEND one may find a barn that looks as if its better days have passed by. But, the relic still protects a load of irrigation pipe and a serviceable Caterpillar tractor.

TO THE LEFT OR TO THE RIGHT may be another of those capillary roads – one that feeds a cell or two of ranch or farm life just around a knoll or across a one-lane bridge.

Living the dream, this entrepreneur probably left the rat race and opened Rancho Roble Vineyards. Producing a handsome and substantial Barbera to be enjoyed with seared marinated flank steak, or with pastas heavily drenched in tomato-based sauce.  (Complimented greatly grilled lamb and roasted vegetables last evening.)  I suspect that the majority of "maturing" Americans would rather do what this gentleman’s doing than be - what's the word? - rich.

I DIDN’T RIDE FAR THIS DAY: only fifty-six miles in about two and a half hours. But I returned as if I had just visited the old country – where life is borne of the earth and its bounty; where time is as easily judged by the position of the sun in the sky as by a wristwatch; where people wave and take a moment to smile. And where the proprietor is kind enough to ensure that the case of wine tied to the back of the motorcycle is secured so that it won’t fall off during the journey back to reality.


La Fornaretta Restaurant, 455 Main Street # 4, Newcastle, CA 95658-9359

GENERALLY, during my first visit to what to me will be a new Italian place, and if they serve it, I always order Linguine con Vognole. I’m looking for flavors that marry the rhythm of the vast Mediterranean Sea with the intimacy of a small, passionate Italian cucina.

LINGUINE WITH CLAMS, when properly prepared, has a broth that lingers. Like a view across an Umbrian valley from a summit in the Dolomites. Or a love affair. A taste that begs to be savored for longer than the dinner hour. Sweet. Steeped in garlic and herbs. Just enough salt to remind us of our common origins in the sea.

Last night’s broth rekindled warm, summer memories of the Cinque Terra – which is as close as I’ve ever been to Sicily. Even on this morning after, that marriage of vast sea and intimate kitchen lingers and I salivate.

from “My Dinner with Paul Newman”
© 2008 Church of the Open Road Press

Newcastle, California:

A website dedicated to the interests of the community, community businesses and visitors.

Rancho Roble Vineyards:

Following the tradition of California’s 19th century Italian winemakers, Rancho Roble Vineyards ® planted the historic Barbera wine grape rootstock [which] thrive in the micro climate and soils of this region. This vintage reflects the golden afternoons and shady oak evenings…

from “tasting notes”
2007 Rancho Roble Barbera label

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. Your "romance" with the countryside and life in general is refreshingly peace and calm. I can totally relate to your writings and experiences. I truly hope that you possess the internal contentment that shows in your writing. I am 400 miles north of you but see and experience much of the same in my rides....I am attempting to slow down and take it all in rather than let the simple things pass that a younger life has taught us so carelessly