When Harry met Debbie

Debbie Travis - Monday, August 11, 2014


Harry is one of the most popular guys I have ever met. Both men and women swoon over him. They scramble for his attention the moment he enters the room. They seem to grow with importance if he glances their way with his boyish smile. 

If he actually stops to say “Hi” they have a tale to tell their friends back home. Harry is neither recognizable to the average folk, handsome or young. Harry is actually in his mid 80’s, but with the charisma of someone who has spent a lifetime greeting royalty, legends and celebrities from around the globe and last night he met me.

So what happened when Harry met Debbie, and who is this Harry? Yesterday was my birthday and I was lucky enough to be on the outskirts of Venice scouting for furniture for my property in Tuscany where I will be holding my Tuscan Girls’ Getaway. My old man Hans was treating his birthday girl to a night in this magical ‘floating’ city. We were the quintessential tourists for the evening with a gondola ride through the historic canals and dinner at the legendary Harry’s Bar.

This landmark restaurant has been frequented by the likes of Hemingway, Truman Capote, Orson Wells, Alfred Hitchcock and just about every movie star who has ever spent time in Venice. The bar was opened in 1931 by a local bartender, Giuseppe Cipriani, who had been working as a bartender in Venice for years and who had befriended one of his clients, an American called Harry Pickering. Harry had been a regular in the bar where Guiseppe worked but suddenly disappeared. Finally, some months later, he turned up again and told his friend, the barman, that he was broke because his family had cut him off due to his heavy drinking. The barman lent Harry about $5000 dollars in today’s money to help him get on his feet again. With this unexpected help, Harry managed to become prosperous again and a couple of years later returned to the bar where Guiseppe worked and not only re-paid the original loan, but added another $50,000. The lucky barman used this windfall to open Harry’s Bar, named after his generous benefactor. The rest is history, as Harry’s Bar became the place to be seen by the wealthy, the important and of course the beautiful people. Still as popular 83 years later, it is now run by Giuseppe’s son, Arrigo, whom everyone calls Harry.

We ate that night in the small room, packed with diners and waiters who looked as if they were not only part of the furniture but were born to be there. They bustled between crammed tables with ease carrying plates of steaming risotto and curry sauce, spaghetti alla vongole and fish soup. As we fell onto our third glass of local Pinot Grigio I noticed a quiet, elegantly dressed white haired old man tucked into a corner with what looked like an old school pal. The two of them chatted in such an animated way that they reminded me of the old geezers in The Muppet Show. But what really caught my attention was the constant stream of guests who greeted this distinguished gentleman . At the end of our meal he began to circulate around the room shaking hands with just about every table but when he reached ours, Harry sat down. Ignoring Hans, he asked me where I was from and was I enjoying his food? We chatted for a while ignoring the jealous glances from other patrons. Harry signalled to a waiter who promptly brought a copy of the Harry’s Bar cookbook, a beautiful recipe book filled with stories of its famous guests. Harry scribbled on the opening page, “To dear Debbie, I have enjoyed your shows here in Italy for years – Arrigo”…. . Who knew!The night Harry met Debbie made me feel like a million bucks!! I also love the story of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy.


Caught with my pants down

Debbie Travis - Friday, April 04, 2014


 

This must be one of the most common expressions. A favourite with journalists as they create headlines around badly behaved politicians or celebrities. ‘He was caught with his pants down, as he enjoyed a drink in a remote bar with his mistress.’ Or, ‘you don’t want to be caught with your pants down at work as you surf the net looking for new shoes instead of working.’ We have all been caught in some kind of embarrassing situation but have you ever actually been caught, literally with your pants down? Well, today I was. Let me explain.

 

My ancient villa and farm in Tuscany that I am renovating to hold my women’s getaways sits on the knoll of a hill. There is a small castle above me in a medieval village, and below the land rolls down through olive groves to a river and woodland. In typical Tuscan style, the land climbs back up the other side of the valley through vineyards until it reaches the steep, medieval walls of the town of Montepulciano, which, high up on this neighbouring hill, lords over the entire valley. My eighty-acre farm consists of these woods, olive groves, two lavender fields and two vineyards. Now you would think I could find a quiet corner behind one of my hundreds of trees to have a quick pee, but there are builders, plumbers, plasterers, painters, etc. everywhere . They are on the rooftops, in the windows, in trenches – well, you get the picture. As yet I have no plumbing except for one bright blue port-a-potty used by the ‘ ragazzi .’ I think I have mentioned in other blogs that I am absolutely the only female on this site and there is not a chance that I am going in that portable loo .

 

This morning I casually walked along a ridge as far away from the construction site as I could, desperate for a pee. Finally circling the area like a dog with its nose to the ground, ears pricked up for sound, I found what seemed like a private area. With jeans and knickers around my ankles I was feeling like a successful boy scout but then out of the undergrowth lurched our local truffle hunter with his two sniffer dogs. They had sniffed me out. What do you do, what do you say? Pulling my pants up as casually as I could with, I am sure, a look of absolute humiliation on my face, he completely ignored my predicament as if he had met me walking along the cobbled streets of our local village. He just smiled as he fumbled around in his pockets, handed me the largest truffle I’d ever seen, and then strolled off whistling in what I know had to be bloody amusement .

 

What’s a girl to do?

It’s Olive Harvest Time… and Time to Place Your Order!

Debbie Travis - Wednesday, November 13, 2013

 

Dear Friends,

 

Hans and I are getting ready for this year’s, our third, olive harvest at our organic olive farm in Tuscany. This year, we will be not only picking the olives with family and friends but also with a group of ladies (plus a few husbands) who are here on a reunion. They were at the Tuscan Girls’ Getaway in 2011 and became great friends.

 

The olives from this year’s harvest will be cold-pressed as soon as they are picked at our local Frantoio (oil press). The oil will then get bottled, labeled, and readied for air shipment to Canada to ensure ultimate freshness.

 

Harvesting the olives from our organic farm is a labour of love and I hope you will try this liquid gold. Our oil is a mix of six varieties, and has a robust, flavourful and slightly peppery taste – ideal for garnishing your salads, grilled vegetables and meats, or just drizzled over some toasted plain bread. The grassy aroma has a scent of sweet hay and a hint of artichoke. It is delicate and flavourful ( smooth but slightly peppery).

 

Ordering our Certified Organic Extra-Virgin Cold-Pressed Tuscan Olive Oil is easy and we will get it to you well before the Christmas holidays since it also makes for a delicious and interesting hostess gift or present. A good wine is gone in an evening, but here is a product that will last for months and is so good for you.

I would like to make a note about something I have become passionate about since becoming an olive farmer – and that is that yes, olive oil is a superfood, but much of the olive oil on our supermarket shelves is not extra virgin olive oil, and much of it is not even olive oil. I will be talking about this on the Marilyn Denis Show on Thursday, November 6, and I suggest that everyone read the wonderful, enlightening book Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller.

 

This link will take you to our order page where you will find more details. We have tried making the ordering process as simple as possible by using PayPal Merchant Services. You can pay for your order with most major credit cards and all the shipping costs within Canada are included in the price.

We are truly excited to be continuing with this new venture. I think you will agree when you taste our hand picked, Certified Organic Extra-Virgin Cold-Pressed Tuscan Olive Oil, that it is one of the best and freshest olive oils you have ever tasted. And perhaps one year you will be able to come and pick your own olives – wouldn’t that be fun!

 

Thank You and Ciao,

Debbie

 

And Reality Sets In...

Debbie Travis - Wednesday, October 10, 2012
February, 2012 My first ‘Tuscan’ blog in January captured, I hope, the child-like excitement that I felt on signing the final deed to our Tuscan Property. After years of searching, our dream has come true. We are now the proud owners of a 60 acre olive tree farm in Southern Tuscany that we will restore over the next two years.  We will  transform this run-down building into a home or small boutique hotel. 

I am sharing this journey with you all, so you can dream along with us and one day bring your loved ones and come and stay – under the Tuscan sun. Last week I arrived  in Tuscany alone (Hans - my old man, one of my boys and a small camera crew were following on to document the ‘before’ shots of our new home). The farmer, Luciano who we have just hired, met me at the B&B we’re  staying  and took me up to my property. He sauntered off to work in the vineyard leaving his new ‘boss’ to  wander around this ‘podere’ alone.  A podere is a large fortified farm that would have once housed 3 or 4 families on its top floor with the animals living below.  This particular farm was once 3 medieval towers constructed over different periods and kind of ‘stuck’ together. This was the first time I’d seen the property without the previous owners and all their stuff.   The sky was a rich, Mediterranean blue, the surrounding undulating hills seemed to swim off in the distance like giant waves and that infamous Tuscan sun gave the butter, ochre and terracotta exterior walls a shimmering golden glow. I unravelled the chains on a massive door with a patina that only a baking hot sun could have weathered.  It creaked open and there was my future living room.  Impossible to imagine now but one day!  The floors are ancient stone, pitted with holes from centuries of cow urine.  The tiled drain still runs through the centre of these floors and there is a manger with  scatterings of hay around the parameter.   Four rooms, well spaces really, are joined together by huge brick arches.  Kind of like todays modern open plan living.  I stumble back outside into the winter sunshine.  There are pigsties  everywhere.  Empty now except for floors of straw and the rather strong aroma of their previous inhabitants.  These will be the guest bedrooms for the future luxury B & B.  I shake my head at the daunting task ahead as I stubble over piles of ‘something’ smelly and foreign to this city slicker! I am not sure if there is an emotion that mixes pure excitement and gut wrenching fear.  Probably the same feeling as when one bunged jumps off a cliff, which I am afraid to say I have never done... But I have invested my life savings in a pile of stone in a foreign land.  The lump in my throat is growing  bigger.  Outside again, I climb up the outside stairs.  My legs are heavy with dread.  This is actually the first time I have explored the top floor.  Most Tuscan farms have exterior stone staircases as the families would have lived up here with much of their heating coming from the animals living below.  I think my gasp on entering must have been heard in Rome! I stood among walls covered in black mildew. Bare light bulbs cast a depressing mood across massive bedrooms with soaring 15 foot ceilings.  Oh! and these aren’t your typical stucco ceilings.  Huge chestnut beams hold up a surface of terracotta bricks.  Each room shrinks away from the midday sun with shutters tightly closed.  I flung a pair open and that lump in my throat surfaced with a stream of tears.  One day I will wake up to this view.  The ancient town of Montepulciano in the distance, lines of cypresses , vineyards rolling over hills that seem to emulate the curves of a rotund renaissance beauty. The quiet hit me, then I realized it was not quiet at all.  I heard the sheep in the fields below and then a peel of bells from the three different churches in the village nearby.  With a slap of optimism I smiled.  Mildew can be removed, walls plastered and painted and of course bathrooms can be added (there’s only one – a 1960’s eyesore).  I am Debbie Travis I say to myself.  I can do this, I’ve done it before.  Well never quite like this, but I am ready to give it a bloody good try.

Debbie Travis Organic Lavender Oils

Debbie Travis - Thursday, September 20, 2012

 

 

There are 32 different types of lavender, a beautiful purple plant that flowers all summer. Eighteen months ago I bought 2000 tiny organic plants, each the shape of a large fist. I had a pebbly, dry field on a steep hill on my Tuscany property. It is south facing and has very little water which is apparently what lavender loves. I’ve been told by the local village gossip machine ( most takes place in the café in the square) that lavender is very much like women and grape vines. The more they suffer, the better they do! I take this with a pinch of salt, especially the women bit. Mind you, some of the ancient old ladies I have met in these medieval towns, widowed and all dressed in black, seem to have made a living out of the suffering bit. That’s probably not fair to say as I am sure they have had their share of suffering but I think you know what I mean.

 

My marvelous farmer Luciano and I ( well me just really getting in the way) planted these baby lavender bushes hoping that one day they would grow into one of those magnificent visions you see in the South of France. Sadly, after all the expense and the effort, I began receiving pessimistic comments from both locals and expats. There are few lavender farms in Italy. In fact, the Italians rarely grow anything they can’t eat! They will grow every type of vegetable, edible foliage and all kinds of crops, but you will encounter few flower shops. But I swallowed all the head shaking advice and stuck to my vision. Between us, the real purpose for the lavender was just to make the barren field look pretty, the idea being that as the ladies taking part in my retreats approach my property, they would be breathless with the colours and perfume.

 

Well, the lavender flourished. Each grassy little ball suddenly sprouted long arms emulating a green hedgehog. By mid summer, the hillside had become a rolling sea of purple. Woo hoo, I was a ‘farmer’! At our Tuscan Girls’ Getaway, every woman is given a pouch of our dried lavender to help with jet lag and to take home to sweeten her linen closet.

 

One evening my old man and I were at dinner party chatting with mostly Italians. Well, he was chatting and I was sitting quietly, a rarity, as I understood only the odd word. The more wine was consumed by the party of revelers, the more sober and quiet I became. The thrilling, hilarious conversations surrounded me and I understood… nothing, niente. I love dinner parties and I am usually the chatty one as I have so many stories to share that I think are fascinating, even though the other guests might be bored rigid. I was sitting quietly nibbling on yet another bowl of olives when a beautiful Venetian woman began to chat to me about her lavender oil .

 

She was a specialist in making herbs and oils and had just moved her entire operation to produce essential oils to a laboratory a mile from me. She made her oils from all kinds of organic plants which she grew, but she had yet to plant lavender. How often does a business opportunity throw itself at you like that? I have a field of lavender… she makes the oil but has no lavender… hello! By the time ‘ dolce’ was being served, we were in business. This summer, Maria Christina infused several massive glass jars of my olive oil with my lavender. These bulbous glass domes soaked up the summer sun until the end of September like fat Buddhas outside their temples. We then filtered the oil and, voila, we had the most natural, luxurious perfumed massage and body oil imaginable.

 

Making the essential oil was a little more laborious. Rows upon rows of the lavender were cut, washed and then put into a contraption that looked like a distillery from the deep South for making moonshine. This produced the strongest essence of lavender imaginable. We sat and stared at this oversized chemistry set for hours, as drop by drop the oils were distilled from the plants. No wonder a tiny bottle of essential lavender oil is so expensive.

 

The properties in these oils are also quite astounding. Lavender was used extensively in the hospitals during World War 1 for its ability to heal everything from wounds, burns, headaches and calming the nerves. Lavender, in all its forms from, including teas, seeds and oils, is today used for many purposes, especially to aid sleep. A tiny drop on a pillow will relax you, help with any anxiety, and send you into the most relaxing sleep.

 

The exciting news is that these bottles of both essential lavender oil and massage/body oil have been shipped to Canada for you all to enjoy. Just check out my website and you will see them available for purchase. I only have 400 bottles from my sunny field in Toscana so it really is first come, first served. They are not expensive compared to whatever else is out there and all they contain is lavender, olive oil, sunshine and the occasional rain.

Please, please let me know what you think if you try it!

 

Ciao,

Debbie

close  

Sign-up to our newsletter

Debbie’s newsletter is a peek into her life between London, Tuscany and Toronto – running her television company, Tuscan Retreats and living life to the fullest.