Friday, May 28 started off as a slow day. We walked to town and saw the ancient castle that rests on the top of the hill just below the church and overlooks the town and the valley below. We have been told an artist lives there alone since her husband died. The gate was open because some workers were going in with their truck and we were able to see the massive size of the structure that could not be appreciated from the street. The grounds are beautifully manicured and the property extends quite a way down the side of the hill. I had to climb up on a car parked near the wall to see in, but it was worth the challenge. Itís hard to imagine somebody living there alone. Sorry, no pictures.
Later that evening we traveled with the Luconis to Castellini in Chianti for a town dinner that was held on the via della Volta, a long arched brick tunnel extending inside the length of one side of the wall of the city. One long table ran the entire length seating 150 people for a banquet fit for royalty. We were surprised because it was inexpensive (Ä35 a person all inclusive), the food and wine was fabulous and limitless, and it was quite a lot of fun. We were at a table with 8 Americans and 4 Italians. The most interesting person was Leonardo who sat at my end of the table. He was a young Italian man who had his own business producing leather products such as diaries and phone books that he manufactured in Florence and sold not only in Italy, but also to Barnes and Noble in NYC and a book retailer in San Francisco. We ate too much and drank too much and returned home with an experience to remember. This picture doesnít do justice to the size and length of the hall and the enormous numbers of people, but perhaps you can get a sense of how much fun we were having.
On Saturday, we drove west to Monticatini, a town that is famous for its mineral baths. We were surprised to find it deserted when we arrived after 1 pm, and Betsy, Sue and Fred who were considering having massages at one of the spas made the mistake of deciding to wait until later in the day. The town was physically striking with large old hotels of baroque architecture and extensive parks and fields, but the total absence of people, open shops and adequate restaurants had us puzzled. We had a less than satisfactory lunch. I was very happy with my meal, but Iíve been told that it doesnít take much for me to enjoy a meal. Anyway, I thought my spaghetti arrabiata was great. We then went on to Lucca, another city we had visited many years ago and found to be less than interesting. It appears that we had entered from the wrong gate and didnít get into the historical area. This time, moving directly to the Piazza Napoleone, we found the city was much more alive and quite interesting, though the historic sites were in poor shape. We returned to Monticatini for massages, but alas, the spas were closed for the evening. This time, we found the town to be jumping with activity. All the beautiful people were out and parading around. It was more fun to visit.
Sunday was a quiet day with a lot of time spent lying around, writing and reading, interspersed with naps. We first went to the market for Betsy to purchase produce and meat for the next few days. Sheís getting quite good at this and has already made a few friends behind the counters. Here she is negotiating for lettuce and also for cheese. She and Sue think the cheese man is cute and looks like Andy Garcia, the actor (not the kid in the apron in front but the fellow behind the counter).
We enjoy the pace of life in the town. Everything is slow. Nobody rushes, except Monia, the young woman who owns and operates our Villa, the farm, and her 12 room bed and breakfast in town. You can always count on finding a group of old-timers sitting on one of the benches in the center of the town.
That night we made dinner on the outside grill at Il Palagio. The fireplace operates on wood.
We sat out at the adjacent tables and enjoyed our meal and wine as the sun set. Once the mellow glow set in, we retired to the comfortable sofas and chairs on the patio until we had the strength to get up and clean up and retire for the night.
The next day Betsy and Sue had their cooking class with Luca and David. They arrived late in the afternoon and Betsy and Sue, along with Monia watching on, paid close attention.
The two chefs with their assistants prepared an unbelievable meal for us and the Biermans, who arrived at 9:30 pm because of a two hour delay in their plane. In spite of rain and dismal weather, we had a fabulous night.
The next day, June1st, we awoke to drizzle and gray skies. Undeterred, we drove to Castello Verrazzano, a beautiful one thousand year old castle and vineyard for an education in wine culture and tasting. Our guide was Gillian Phillips Maddalena, a transplanted English woman who was a terrific teacher and guide. The grounds were magnificent. Verrazzano, who was raised on this property, was the first European to set foot on New York and discovered the Narrows, hence the name of the Verrazzano Bridge.
From here we went on to Volpaia for lunch and then to Castellina in Chianti to walk around and show the lovely town to the Biermans. While there we ran into the owner of an expensive art gallery who we had met before. He sells the work of local artists at a markup to buyers mostly in the US, then invests in newer and more expensive artifacts and religious relics for sale as well. His American wife from Chicago operates a moderately high priced leather, shoe and pocket book store across the piazza. He expounded to us on the advantage of the communist system in Tuscany relative to we mere capitalists from the USA. I didnít have the heart or the energy to point out to him that he was functioning as a premier capitalist in his and his wifeís occupation. He also remarked on the need to solve Israelís treatment of the Palestinians which he felt would solve a lot of the worldís problems. Rather than jump at him or the bait, we simply excused ourselves and said our last goodbye to him.
Throughout this trip, I have been startled at the perception of the US held by at least the Europeans I have met. Just as our media twists and distorts the news as they see fit, the media outside the US is equally talented at getting the point they want across to the public. I suppose the only thing that would be worse would be if the Europeans saw our news as well. That would really convince them that we are decadent and violent. You have to wonder if and when the media will ever begin to understand the responsibility they carry and the damage they have done.
Enough of that.
We returned home and had a great homemade dinner of pasta and salad.
Today, June 2, we drove off with the Biermans to meet Fredís sister Maddie, her husband Herman and their friends in San Gimignano. This is the famous town of towers, built in the 15th and 16th centuries to prove that each family could have taller towers than the next. Of the initial 72 towers, there are now 12 remaining. There isnít much else to see in the town and it was a quick visit. We took the obligatory picture by the 13th century cistern.
We then drove on to Volterra, a magnificent medieval mountain top town, famous for alabaster sculpture. The marble varies from pure snow white to brown to blue and shades of green along with some in solid black. The handiwork was magnificent. The central town piazza contains the city hall which is the oldest of its type in all of Tuscany.
We purchased a pair of candlesticks to use for Shabbat candles here in Italy. The streets were filled with shops of artisans and local sculptors and painters, along with the usual gelatto stores, clothing shops and shoe stores.
The view from the top of the mountain across the extensive valley below all the way to the coastal mountains was another in a series of breathtaking experiences.
The ride back to Il Palagio was long and a bit tiring, so we went for a walk. The last picture of the day is the full moon rising over Panzano. We are sad we will be here for only 2 more days, but our adventure continues.
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