Thursday, April 12, 2012


Montepulciano – Day 12 – Tuesday

This is a slow week at Il Sasso (my school) because of the holidays.  There are only two of us left in my class.  This means that we get only three hours of lessons per day, but we are forced to speak constantly during those three hours.  Since I elected not to take the cooking class this afternoon, I had lots of time to do my laundry.

After class, my fellow student, Linda, and I went out for lunch.  I had a lovely bruschetta with mystery meats and cheeses that were delightful and a glass of Montepulciano rosso.  There was a break in the weather and we enjoyed basking in the pale sunshine.  We had a friendly waiter who enjoyed us enjoying the food.

Linda had a private lesson after lunch and I returned home to do some much needed laundry.  Fiorella offered me the use of her washing machine.  She has a little low ceilinged laundry room on the mezzanine level.  European washing machines are small.  I couldn’t get all my clothes in, so I washed the colors in the machine and did the whites by hand.  Fiorella doesn’t have a dryer.  They are not common here.  By the time the wash was done, it has clouded up and looked like rain, so a clothesline wouldn’t have helped even if there were one.  I hung all my clothes on a drying rack and hoped for the best.

Dinner was tagliatelle with cheese, garlic and tiny little zucchini.  We also had oven baked chicken and salad, with cheese and apple cake for dessert.  We have some form of unlabeled Montepulciano rosso with every meal.  Fiorella takes her jug and gets it filled somewhere.  The wine has really grown on me.  Fiorella and I had a long conversation about different kinds of food.  Italians aren’t too big on ethnic food, but you do see kebabs and Chinese food quite often.  I have seen McDonalds and Burger King advertised on the TV, although I haven’t actually seen any restaurants.  I had some rather mediocre Indian food in Milan, but I couldn’t resist.  Here in Tuscany, I don’t see any reason to eat anything that isn’t local.

I am so humbled by the food here.  I alternate between wanting to run home and try to prepare some of the fabulous dishes I have tasted here and thinking that my cooking is so inferior I should just throw in the dish towel.  People just don’t eat junk here.  Cheese is made by hand.  Vegetables are fresh,  tomatoes ripe.  They truck them in from Sicily at this time of year.  The meat is really amazing.  The beef is tender and has flavor.  Even boneless, skinless chicken tastes good here.  I’m sure virtuous foodies die and go to Tuscany.

Montepulciano – Day 13 – Wednesday

This is a boring week for blogging.  There is not much happening in the way of excursions and I had enough adventure over the weekend to last me for several days, so I didn’t feel like setting out on my own.  The weather was ugly today.  It rained all day and there was thunder and hail this afternoon.  We were supposed to take a hike in the countryside this afternoon, but it was cancelled.  I stayed home and watched the hailstones bounce off the ancient tile roof across the street.

Fiorella had invited me for lunch, so I came straight home from school and we had a relaxing lunch of bruschetta with red, ripe cherry tomatoes, herbs and olive oil and some prosciutto.  I studied for a while, but ended up napping for a couple of hours.  The phone rang and awakened me and I swear I had been dreaming in Italian.  I guess that’s a good sign.

Since there isn’t much going on, this seems like a good time to describe my lodgings.  I am renting a room in a flat from a single woman named Fiorella.  The building dates back to the renaissance, but the inside has been renovated.  The layout is a little bit strange.  There is a door at street level and then a flight of stairs up to a mezzanine.  On the mezzanine level there are storage closets and a cavelike laundry room, which also contains the furnace and water heater.

There is another half flight of stairs from the mezzanine to the landing on the main floor with a pair of double stained glass doors at the top.  From the landing, there is another half flight of stairs that goes up to a small storeroom.  Through the double doors is the living/dining room.  There is a small couch, but it is occupied by the dog.  The people hang out at the dining room table.  Fiorella sets the table with a cloth whenever we eat, but the rest of the time the table is used as a workspace.

The kitchen is large and modern, although very Tuscan in appearance.  There is lots of brick and a brick oven.  There is another big table in the center of the kitchen.  Counters are not as popular here as they are in the U.S., although they are gaining in popularity.  To the right of the living area are Fiorella’s bedroom and bath.  Behind the living area, there is another set of stained glass doors which lead to a small sitting room with a bath of it.  Behind that are the two bedrooms that Fiorella rents.  There have just been the two of us here, but another woman is coming on Sunday.

The two bedrooms are identical.  Each has a twin bed with a down comforter and a white cotton bedspread.  Each has a desk from IKEA, a nightstand, an armoire and a couple of chairs.  There are windows opening onto the street, although the street is so narrow that one has to risk one’s neck to lean out far enough to see the ground.  There is very little light, which is my only real complaint.  The overhead light helps a bit after dark, but doesn’t help at all during the day because it can’t be more than a 40 watt bulb.  There are tiny little lamps on the desk and nightstands, but they are so short that it is hard to read by them.  The buildings here are so close together that the windows don’t let in a lot of light, either.  It’s hard to read, but the rooms have high ceilings and are painted white, so they aren’t oppressive.  Best of all, there are good old fashioned, cast iron, steam heat radiators.  The heat feels quite luxurious and you can warm your towels or pajamas on them, also.
The bathroom is a little bit eccentric.  The room is spacious, but all the plumbing is crammed in one corner.  The shower is under a stairway and raised up about 18" to accommodate the plumbing.  This makes for a low ceiling.  The toilet is actually IN the shower.  I thought I'd seem every possible plumbing combination in my travels,  but this is a new one.  There is a grate that I can take out while showering so that I can replace it afterwards and not have to step on the wet floor.

There is also a sweet old dog who lives here.  His name is Chiriho (sp?)  He is part cocker spaniel and part some sort of hunting dog.  He looks like he could be part Irish setter.  He is medium sized and has wavy reddish fur, beautiful ears and a stripe down the center of his nose.  We are fast friends.  The last couple of days he has tried to come to school with me.  He lies at my feet and begs for cheese.  He is almost as good as having a cat.

 Tonight’s dinner may have been the best one yet.  Fiorella made dumplings from ricotta and sage, sprinkled them with pecorino and baked them in the oven.  She served them with thin pan seared chicken cutlets and three kinds of salad.  Fiorella and I both agree that vegetables are best served raw.  I had never had raw anise before, but I enjoyed it a lot.  I can just imagine it with blood orange infused olive oil.  I will have to send a bottle to Fiorella when I get home.  The anise in my neighborhood may be in trouble.  Luckily, no one else seems interested in eating it.  Dessert was red, ripe strawberries and a bit of assorted cheese.

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