Without any prodding now, I am ordering a glass of wine with lunch. Red in Tuscany. Red is what is made here and it is what the house wine is. And I am still not getting tired afterwards. What is different about Italian wine in Italy. Or perhaps it is me.
Today has a completely different feel from yesterday. Today, we slept in, had eggs for breakfast and then drove to Bagno Vignoni to take the waters. Is that the correct verb? We arrive just after noon. The web site said the particular place we want to go was closed from noon to 1 but on sight the attendant says from noon to 2 even though there is a sign that says until 1:30. This is a part of the character of Italian travel that can be very frustrating to the uninitiated. I vividly remember fighting it 30 years and then giving up. Absolutely no reason to even mention the sign or the online information now. There is nothing to do but find a restaurant, order pizza and a glass of wine and get more change for the parking meter. Yes, even in romantic Tuscany you need to feed the meter.
Bagno Vignoni is an ancient little town that has catered to tourists since roman times. In the center of the city is a giant pool of water from “the source.” Their word not mine. The water is from underground and has something to do with volcanic rock. But what I started to say is that there is a pool instead of a square. No one can swim in this pool now but it continues to be fed from its underground source. I can almost imagine that there is a day each year when all of the hordes of tourists go home and the locals tear down the no bathing signs and throw themselves into the ‘town square.’ But during our visit all is as the rules state: the giant pool that is the place of a town square sits empty. As good tourists, we visit the square, read our guide books and then look for the place to bathe.
The Hotel Posta Marcucci is the place to bathe. Two pools one warm to hot and the other hotter. Going in the middle of an already very warm day may sound a bit crazy but if felt great! I managed to persuade Julia to stay in for almost two hours. She ‘saved’ bugs, mostly lade bugs from drowning. I lazed around in the water, taking my turn now and again to stand under the really hot water fall of incoming water. It was only under that fall where there is the slight smell of sulphur which reminded me of the Indiana hot waters in French Lick. There were plenty of minerals in the Tuscan waters as evidenced on every hard surface exposed to the waters although I halve no idea of the composition. Not much of what gives off the rotten eggs sulphur smell. But oh, it felt good.
Another Italian idiosyncrasy: the fee was 15€ for adults and 10€ for kids. A locker came with admission if you knew to ask. And even thought I can’t read much Italian there was no sign about this to read. I asked the life guard and later told a nice Italian lady who wondered about it as well. There was no towel rental and we did not bring towels. I called about time and availability but failed to ask for towels. I assumed at 15€ for a few hours, towels would either come or be available. My own fault for not asking. It was warm and sunny enough to dry in the sun.
The attendant charged me but let Julia go for free. I thanked him and he waved me on. There is usually a reduction for kids but there is no way of knowing when and why a reduction, and this was the third time that the cashier just waved Julia into somewhere. On the other hand, some of the church visiting we’ve done charges kids the same as adults. Another thing to roll with without much question.
We paid a quick visit to Montepulciano, another medieval and Renaissance hill town. It was one too many hill towns that we’ve visited and we walked a bit up stairs and steep streets, found the cathedral, visited,ate gelato and left. Perhaps it should be where we begin next time but this time it was a blur. I will probably forget all about it by next week. Except to comment that the people of the hill towns must all be in great shape and really good calves. Hiking some of the streets had Julia huffing and puffing. And there were railing on some streets for the walk down. They are hearty souls who live inside the ancient walls. No wonder they can eat their own pasta.
For our last night in Tuscany we reserved a table at La Porto in Monticchiello, the town closest to Podere Isabella. I had wanted to sit outside on a high terrace to watch one more sunset but there were those who deserved before us. Instead, we whew inside the tiny dining room and able to watch the owner and staff do their work. They were like ballet dancers circling the tables. I ordered lavishly, three courses. We split each dish. The owner took our order and she didn’t let me pick what she thought Julia would not like. I trusted her judgment. Right after I ordered a server brought a glass of sparkling wine to me. Julia began to devour the bread basket. We began with crostini and Julia was enthusiastic to a degree that she asked if we could have it at home. Tuscan bread with tomatoes basil and oil, another slice with thin sliced beef and a third with melted cheese that had a slight glaze of honey. That was followed by spinach ravioli with a creamy cheese sauce. Then roast ‘baby pig’–I didn’t read the description to Julia–with roasted potatoes. I drank a local red wine and when il secundo was cleared, a glass of moscato and a dish of small cookies–a tiny bit of ricotta and chocolate chip wrapped in flaky pastry–was served. I had to wrestle a few from Julia. Dessert was a rice and ricotta tart served with berries. We began by sharing but Julia claimed about two thirds of it.
The owner came by to ask how the meal was. Julia had a lot to say and the woman kindly listened. I told her how the owner of the house I was staying had recommended the restaurant and how happy I was that I listened. When I got the bill she had taken some off as a ‘gift’ to two travelers and when I paid it she held my hands tight across the counter. This woman’s business is the multitude of travelers she serves every day and yet she took time to touch my heart and gift me with her care.
When we traveled north to Siena a ew days ago and the north again to Florence today, the land and light changed. I could not help but conclude that the little part of southern Tuscany where we’ve spent these days is the most beautiful place on earth.
The moon is full or nearly so and I have a clear view of it from our window at Suore Oblate, Convent Guest House in Florence. The room is simple but not austere, quiet with good towels and a comfortable. The convent occupies at least three adjoining buildings and there is a garden to sit in in the middle. It is so quiet that there could be no one but the two of us and the nuns although from what I know it is booked solid . We’ll see who shows up for breakfast. We can see the dome so the duomo from the end of our block and there are many restaurants and take away places close by, even a fruit seller that made us very happy.
I was exhausted when we arrived in Florence just after one but we were hungry and had most of the day in front of us. It was the driving, the intense presence of driving winding country roads, the Italian highway with a curtesy all its own, and the few miles of Florence city streets. I have som confidence on the country roads, a steadfast determination on the highway, but those miles on Florence streets are nerve teasers. And I made it. I successfully drove around Italy, albeit mostly on back roads, for five days.
My feelings of accomplishment over this feat which may for some be small and insignificant, brought to mind a feeling from one of David’s last days. David had collapsed on the bathroom floor where I found him after walking the dog. Over his protestations, I called 911, called Maria to stay with Julia, and drove myself to the hospital. I was on my third day of a fast and as I drove to the hospital, my insides hurt–no one should fast through great stressful times. Perhaps only seers and prophets. I walked into the ER, sat down and asked for juice. I went to david and stayed as long as they let me. Then camped in a waiting room as they tried to stabilize him. After seeing him hours later, I drove home to relieve Maria and be with Julia. As I drove, a feeling of great power washed over me. It was an awful night and the beginning of a dreadful week, but what I felt was a sureness that I could do anything. It was a proclamation of power and ability. Now, I know that driving in Italy is just . . .driving . . In Italy, but it was a dream of seeing back roads and small towns and I felt I wasn’t up to the task. And now proving myself wrong, I remember the only positive feeling that came out of David’s last week.
And once again, I can feel blessed by gifts that echo through time and spaces.