HIKING IN TUSCANY ROME VENDEMIA (GRAPE HARVEST) On Tuesday, the 28th, we got tickets to a concert of the Florence Symphony conducted by James Conlon, the director of the Paris Opera. It was a marvelous evening with the special treat of a truly virtuoso performance by Giuseppe Albanese, one of the most talented pianists we have ever heard. We were enthralled. The next two days were quiet with classes, errands and long walks. Thursday night we went back to Tullio’s with Lydia and Charlie Janac, our neighbors in the building who are here with their two sons. We had another great meal and Paulo, who owns the restaurant, is getting to know us pretty well.

Betsy went to bed and I stayed up to watch the presidential debate that was on here at 3 AM. I wasn’t disappointed. If John Kerry can sustain the more mature approach he is presenting and George Bush continues to behave like George Bush, it will be difficult for people to vote for Bush and look at themselves in the mirror the next day.

The next day we went to see the Brancacci Chapel, the site of one of Michaelangelo’s earliest works as a painter. While walking through the streets, we stopped to visit some craftsmen who were friends of Valentina, our guide. We visited with Gianni Raffaelli, a printer who makes beautiful etchings and prints them after which his wife paints them. We watched him prepare a plate he had etched and then print a copy. What a nice man. He patiently explained the entire process to us and allowed us to enter his workshop while he printed.

We had a fabulous and leisurely lunch with the Janacs and then went with them to visit their sons’ school, Poggio Imperiale, a centuries old school in an old Medici villa high on a hill overlooking Florence. The rooms are decorated in magnificent frescos and paintings dating three to four hundred years old and the furnishings are beautiful. The “lunch room” is as magnificent as many museums we have seen in Italy. We weren’t allowed to photograph the frescos, but here’s Betsy and Charlie chatting in the “music and function room”. Remember, this is a grammar school/high school.

That night we went to the opera to see Kovanchina by Massursky. The music was beautiful. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any English language libretto and the libretto there was all in Italian. We left after the second act. We later found out the show lasted five hours, so we were glad to have left.

The next afternoon, Wendy and Jim Mnookin arrived to spend a few days with us. We went out to dinner with Jim’s friend from his days at Princeton 30 years ago. They hadn’t seen each other since then, but we had a delightful time with them at dinner at 4 Leone, one of our favorite restaurants in Florence. Pietro and Vanna Menotti (he’s a professor of theoretical physics and she is a professor of English) came to Florence by train from Pisa and we walked with them back to the station after dinner, giving us and opportunity to know them better.

Sunday we spent walking about Florence with Jim and Wendy, showing them some of Florence’s special attractions and then went to Il Latini for dinner again. This is always an exciting experience and tonight was no different. On our walk home we found a new musician on the Ponte Vecchio, a classically trained guitarist who calls himself Tupahn. We had to stop and listen and ultimately buy one of his CD’s which we have enjoyed nearly every day since. He’s Brazilian but lives in NYC and graduated from Juliard.

The next morning we went off with Valentina and Jim and Wendy went with their guide. We started at the Spedale degli Innocenti, the first orphanage/children’s hospital in Italy. The architecture was designed by Brunellschi and was the first large piazza of its kind outside of the city. The graceful grey stone arches and pillars enclose this beautiful structure that ultimately combined medical care for the indigent and children in what was probably one of the first general hospitals in the world.

Another special highlight of that tour was the visit to the Medici pharmacy where herbal medications have been prepared for over 400 years. Some of the containers and tools used back then are still in use.

Tuesday, October 5, we drove off with the Mnookins to Lamole in Chianti and went on a long hike (3 hours) into the hills of Chianti. It was a strenuous but wonderful climb through the woods, fields and vineyards with more spectacular vistas of the Chianti region.

We finished up with a superb lunch at Osteria di Lamole, sitting outside overlooking the Chianti hills. We made a few stops at vineyards and showed off Il Palagio to Jim and Wendy and arrived back in Florence in time for a late night snack on the Piazza della Signoria. The next morning we all took the train to Rome and checked into the Intercontinental Hotel de Ville and then went off to the Borghese Villa and Museum, our main reason for returning to Rome this time. This is a collection of some of the finest sculpture and art in Italy that was either purchased, stolen or impounded by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V. It is truly a beautiful structure with elegant gardens and an amazing collection on display. We loved it. Since no pictures were allowed I can only show the one picture that was taken by mistake when my camera accidentally went off. This is a poor representation of Canova’s statue of Paulina, the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. It is a breathtaking example of neo-classical sculpture and should be seen by everybody who appreciates the art.

We had a great lunch at La Rampa under the Spanish steps and a mediocre dinner at Il Giggetto behind the Synagogue near the Tiber. The next morning, after a great breakfast at the hotel, Betsy and I went off on bicycles to explore the Borghese Gardens, Rome’s predecessor to New York’s Central Park. It puts any park we have ever seen to shame. This is a paradise within a city. Acres and acres of beautifully maintained statues, fields, gardens, a zoo, ponds, public function facilities and all accessible to the public. We loved the small pond surrounded by small gazebos and Greek temples.

Then we were off to the train back to Florence, followed by a bus to our apartment and a quick repack and change to head off to Panzano in Chianti for the Vendemia or grape harvest. We were picked up by Adam and Linda Crescenzi in Panzano and then went out to dinner, retiring early to get up the next day for the picking. Monia, our host and the owner of Il Palagio, provided us with a room in her bed and breakfast, La Piazzeta. We awoke the next morning to grey skies and cool temperatures, perfect for grape picking. After a nice breakfast provided by Monia, we walked to Il Palagio where we were soon out in the vineyard, gloved and long pants, picking huge bunches of grapes and dropping them into buckets. These were then picked up and replaced with new buckets. Here are Betsy and I busy at work on the vines.

It was so much fun! This was a group of about 15 people working together without stop for over four hours without complaints or moaning. Everybody seemed to be enjoying the process. Here’s Betsy with Signora Picini, the 81 year old matriarch of the family who rises each morning to start working in the fields at 7 AM.

We were fortunate enough to arrive on the last day of the harvest, most days lasting 6- 8 hours of picking. Also, at the end of the harvest, it is traditional to have a festa, a large feast for all the workers. And of course, that’s when we were there so we got to enjoy the festa. Here we are sitting with Monia, here parents, grandparents, cousins, workers and our friends the Crescenzis.

Since we first arrived at Il Palagio in May and saw the early sapling vines starting the season, being able to participate in the picking of the fruit and enjoying the wine (a lot of it) from last season really gave us closure on our experience in Tuscany and a reason to look forward to coming back. We love our extended new family in Panzano but had to sadly say goodbye as Boston beckons.

We had a sleepy bus ride back to Florence and collapsed after cleaning up. Hopefully all the aches and sore muscles tomorrow will remind us of the sweet time we had at Il Palagio.

On Saturday, Dianne and David Epstein arrived to stay with Roberta and Paul Kozloff who have a beautiful apartment around the corner from us across from the Pitti Palace. We had a nice dinner with them and then awoke the next morning to join them on a trip to Forte de Marmi, one of our favorite waterfront spots in Italy. We left in heavy rain that came off and on through the morning. By lunchtime the sun broke through leaving cool and bright conditions, very much like a New England Fall day. The streets were crowded with shoppers visiting the many exclusive boutiques. We had a terrific lunch at Lorenzo’s.

After lunch we walked to the town pier which extends out about 150 yards into the ocean. The waves built up from the storm overnight were enormous, crashing over the end of the pier and showering the hundreds of people on the dock with salt water, to the screaming joy of the children scurrying about.

Betsy and I stood on the dock for an hour, chatting with the local people out watching the waves and surfers. I hope this picture gives you a sense of the enormous size of the waves coming in on this usually tranquil beach.

The next day, Monday, Betsy put the finishing touches on her ceramics and I nearly finished my latest sculpture and did some touch up on my one big piece. I hope to be able to bring them home, but if not, here’s a shot of the one Betsy named Fiora.

Monday night we attended the final performance for this season of the Florence Chamber Orchestra, held inside Orsanmichelle. This was our fifth visit to hear this orchestra and it was a great way to be able to start closing out our visit to Florence. The hall was packed and sold out with people standing in the aisles and sitting on the floor (including us for the first half). We were entranced as the expanded now full orchestra played Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with Bruno Canino, apparently one of Italy’s most famous pianists. Mendelsshon’s 4th symphony was the second offering. We can’t imagine not having this opportunity at home. I guess we’ll have to get tickets for the BSO if they are still available.

We are treasuring each day, parceling out each moment as if it was a jewel, weighing all of our opportunities. We have been so lucky to have spent this time together and we don’t want it to end.