Tuscany

After twenty-one hours of travel — enough time to jet to Australia — concluding with a harrowing drive on switchbacks with thundering trucks, only dimly registered under the blinding glare of the setting sun, we arrived at Montegemoli.

Like our recent travels in Anacortes, Washington and Hayley, Idaho, Montegemoli is the smallest dot on the map.

Our lovely hostess and her happily leaping dog, Gilda, greeted us and immediately hustled us off to a nearby restaurant — the only restaurant in town — just a five-minute walk away. We hadn’t planned on eating, but were too polite to say so. We were so exhausted that we were looking forward to a quick Spartan meal of a crust of bread and a square of chocolate, before toppling into bed and into the embrace of oblivion.

But we gamely trudged off to Osteria dell’ultimo carbonaio. The place was unassuming, with just a few customers sitting at rough wooden tables and chairs, surrounded by screaming children with plastic swords. We scanned the offerings on the vinyl-covered menu: vegetarians would starve to death. Boer, venison and duck featured prominently in just about every dish.

At a loss, we asked the waiter to recommend a few dishes. Something light, as we were tired and not particularly hungry. The “light” antipasto turned out to be a platter of carpaccio. Our hearts sank. But the carpaccio melted on the tongue. Next, two bowls of homemade pasta: One of sausages and porcini, the other with black truffles and cream. We’ve ordered truffled-up dishes in restaurants back home, and always dismissed them as hype, as it’s almost impossible to taste anything, given the microscopic shavings that, rumour has it, may have been sourced from truffles.

Here, the truffles, likely sliced on a mandolin, were generous, earthy and sharp. A mineral quality so different from anything else we’d tasted, they could have been mined on the moon.

So good it was enough to make you weep.

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Striped lady at a café.

After a long night’s sleep, Gilda joined us for breakfast on the patio, overlooking the Tuscan hills. The hills are different from those in Idaho: gentler, less abrupt, more cultivated. Geometric fields give the landscape the appearance of a lumpy bed covered with a patchwork quilt. Our hostess brought us figs from her garden, and we drank cup after cup of coffee as the shadows shortened under the rising sun.

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The view from breakfast. Note the rooster at lower left, whose tail is a whirligig. Much better than a real rooster, who would wake us up.

(Many years ago, on a deserted beach in Greece, an old man arrives every other morning, bringing us large figs in his straw hat: purple figs, so dark at to be nearly black, bursting with jammy meat. A glass of cold water, three figs on a yellow plate, distant applause from the morning sea.)

The rest of our first day in Tuscany, we spent at Colle di val d’Elsa: a walled city that is nearly invisible in the guidebooks we consulted. Cobbled streets and stone walls and small, tidy museums and palazzi with hanging laundry at their windows. The relative lack of tourists, such ourselves, was a pleasure. But we did see a number of Europeans on some kind of pilgrimage, each of them weighed down with bright nylon backpacks and their private sorrows.

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The approach to Colle di val d’Elsa, after parking our six-speed, diesel-powered Fiat Tipo — a joy to drive on the twisty roads.

We read a lot about this walled city. Medieval seat of blah-blah, gateway to the duchy of this-and-that, cathedral to Saint-what’s-his-name, celebrated centre of industry. We stepped into a few shops and the tourist office. Famous for its armaments, and its finocchio. Or was it Pinocchio? I forget which; maybe it’s both.

Facts roll out, make a few orbits around the drain, and disappear. Many people collect them — facts, I mean. But I don’t retain a single one, which makes me a terrible travel companion and dinner guest.

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One of the many alleyways in the walled city.
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Part of the clocktower, attached to the cathedral, which is a magnet for pilgrims.
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Evidence of life in the deserted city. It’s easy to forget that only mad dogs and tourists stir between one and four o’clock in the afternoon.

6 thoughts on “Tuscany”

  1. My goodness Spyro. I really enjoyed this. Living vicariously is underrated! I had to chuckle at some of your observations- retention of facts for instance- been there done that-often! Love your photos too! This brings back memories of our stay in Tuscany a few years back. Our host and hostess were wonderfully hospitable providing us with home made sausages, cookies and more while we had access to fresh eggs (chickens in the backyard) and growing artichokes for our dinners. Meals were usually eaten at our table outside our door with spectacular views. I’m sure you are taking advantage of your setting even if it’s only for an espresso! The restaurant sounds amazing.
    Looking forward to reading your next post🙂

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    1. Thanks, Orit. Yes, the hospitality is quite something, but very familiar for anyone who’s been raised outside of North America and northern Europe (if I’m not being too harsh). We can’t help but contrast it with recent stays at Airbnbs, just weeks ago, in North America. I look forward to being interrogated when we return, and having no facts to provide.

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