A middle aged woman with no particular distinction other than a wanderlust and love of languages travels through Italy, Mexico, Central America and Africa, often by sailboat. This is travel for the not so young, beautiful or wealthy who are still curious, energetic, and adventurous.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
LAST WEEK IN TUSCANY
Montepulciano – Day 25 – Monday
Even though it was technically the middle of a session, we
had a lot of new students on Monday.
Three new people joined our class.
Martin is a very gentlemanly sort of Englishman who currently lives in
Australia, but also has a house in Italy.
Maya is from Finland and Irmgard was born in Germany, but now lives in
West Virginia. We are a very diverse
After school, I took Martin on a brief tour of Montepulciano
and we had lunch in Piazza Grande. The
sun was out and it was very pleasant, but Martin had to run off to a private
lesson, so I sat and basked in the sun by myself for a bit. I came home and did my homework and then
Fiorella, Gosia and I had dinner together.
Fiorella made spaghetti carbonara and steak with arugula. We talked for a couple of hours and then
somehow got on the subject of liquor. I
broke out the absinthe. It was a grand
Montepulciano – Day 26 – Tuesday
To learn a language is also to learn about the culture and
values of a people. Today we studied the
future tense. Italians live very much in
the present and have a great respect for the past. They have nine tenses to discuss the past,
but only two for the future, one of which is just the simple present. It is equally correct to say, “I do it
tomorrow,” as it is to say, “I will do it tomorrow.” However, with millennia of history to
recount, there are many fine distinctions when discussing the past.
While Americans would consider it highly spontaneous to organize
a dinner party giving less than a couple of weeks’ notice, Italians rarely invite
anyone more than four days in advance.
Our teacher, Costanza, claims that she can see a pattern in her students’
responses to lessons about the future depending on their nationalities. People from Spain or South America will talk
about tomorrow or next week, while Germans, Scandinavians and Americans will
talk about next year or even further out in the future. I wonder if this is because we have the
entire cold winter to stay indoors and plan?
Once again, Martin and I headed out for lunch. We ran into Gosia at La Pentolaccia. Soon, Irmgard joined us. I had pici (a handmade pasta sort of like fat
spaghetti) with a wild boar sauce. It
was sort of like pulled pork, but not as sweet.
I enjoyed it immensely. Fiorella
had recommended La Pentolaccia as a good, authentic place to eat. Her father lives above the restaurant. We were not disappointed.
I had wanted to go for another walk to San Biagio, but it
was raining. I came home and spent the
afternoon reading. Maybe this was a good
thing, since I was starting to sneeze. Fiorella
made us a pasta with cheese and zucchini and some tasty grilled sausages. By the time dinner was over, I was sure I was
coming down with Costanza’s cold. I went
to bed early. My nose was running
incessantly and I had a hard time getting to sleep.
Montepulciano to Montefollonico – Day 27 – Wednesday
Wednesday was a national holiday celebrating Italy’s
liberation from fascism and the school was closed. Irmgard and I had plans to walk to
Montefollonico, but we had agreed to meet at 10:00, so I slept in. I definitely had a cold, but decided to walk
it off. Montefollonico is a small
village about seven kilometers from Montepulciano if you take the direct
route. We didn’t. Since both Montepulciano and Montefollonico
sit on top of hills, we descended to the bottom of a valley and then climbed
back up. On the way, we passed San Biagio
and I finally got to see the inside of the church. I was attempting to follow directions in a
book written in 1997, but many of the “abandoned” farmhouses have since been
renovated and turned into hotels. The
directions were hard to follow. We made
the mistake of choosing the fork of the road that headed towards Montefollonico
and ended up walking all the way around to the back of the hill before we
reached the top. Just as we were most
confused, we encountered Age and Chris.
They were equally lost, but Chris had a working iPhone and it told us we
were on a road that would lead us to Montefollonico, so we decided to stick
with this longer, but surer route.
Eventually, we reached Montefollonico. The town is very small and was seemingly deserted
on the holiday. The first restaurant we
tried was full, so we went to another, more expensive one called Botta Piena
which means full wine cask. They had a
very large selection of wine. When we
ordered a glass of house wine, they brought us a little crate with six
different bottles from which to choose. The
food was very good and I had a glass of a Sangiovese/Merlot blend that was
wonderful. Italian wine has grown on
me. I like Sangiovese, anyway. This had just a bit more of the fruity flavor
one comes to expect in a California wine.
It was a nice change. We both
ordered lentil soup and salad. There was
a couple really enjoying themselves at the next table. They very generously shared what was probably
their second bottle of wine with us.
Montefollonico has a large restaurant with a huge terrace
overlooking the valley. It was a little
chilly to have eaten out there, but we decided to stop in for dessert so as to
enjoy the view. They were closed, but
were happy to sell us some ice cream confections. We took a table and were enjoying the view
and the ice cream when our friends from the restaurant appeared. They greeted us like old friends and we
chatted with them in Italian for a while.
He was Italian and his girlfriend was from Hungary.
Irmgard was determined that we not take the long route
home. We started at the edge of
Montefollonico closest to Montepulciano and made our way down the hill. We could see the road we wanted off to the
right, but the main road went to the left.
We scrambled through the forest and stomped across fields and through
olive orchards in an attempt to reach the road cross country, but eventually
reached a creek lined with an impassable barrier of blackberry bushes. We had to climb back up to the main road, but
it was still much shorter than the way we had come. Eventually that road met the road we had
taken down from Montepulciano and we climbed back up the long hill to the
city. My cold and bad hip were catching
up with me by that time and we were both pretty done in. I’m sure we walked more than 15km, but I can’t
say how far. It was far enough.
Gosia returned from Siena shortly after I got home and we
had a dinner of shells with broccoli and cheese and grilled chicken
breast. I didn’t feel well and wasn’t
very hungry, which was probably a good thing, since broccoli is not my favorite
food, although this was palatable.
Montepulciano – Day 28 – Thursday
I was a bit worse for wear after our trek to
Montefollonico. My cold was making my
head stuffy and I felt like I was moving slow.
I’m not sure I absorbed much Italian, but we did have fun playing a game
where we had to mime Italian words. I
also had to admit that my camera was dead and not going to recharge, no matter
what I tried. This is a bad thing for
the blog, since I’m sure most of you just want to look at the pictures. I’ll have to think of some way to correct the
I went out to the pharmacy at the break and managed to
explain my condition to the pharmacist well enough to obtain some cold tablets
containing ibuprofen and pseudoephedrine.
They are a Proctor and Gamble product with a Vick’s brand that I am sure
I have never seen in the United States, but they work well enough.
After class, I had lunch with Fiorella and Gosia. Fiorella put on quite a spread. We had bresaola (a dried, thinly sliced,
salted fillet of beef) served on a bed of arugula with a side of goat cheese
sprinkled with dried red pepper and herbs and bruschetta. Of course, we also had wine. Determined to get the best of my cold, I
spent the afternoon doing laundry in preparation for my departure and sleeping.
Dinner was tagliatelle with homemade ragout, followed by
breaded, fried beef cutlets …and salad… and cheese… and wine. I watched a little bit of TV with Fiorella
and Kiriku, the dog, and went to bed early.
Montepulciano – Day 29 – Friday
It seems impossible, but I have now reached the second half
of my trip. It seems like I just got
here. How can this be? I would love to stay in Tuscany for another
month, but I will have to settle for coming back someday. I do want to see other parts of Italy.
We had a productive day of lessons. I felt a good deal better. I just wish the congestion in my sinuses would
pass. It’s hard enough to listen to
myself speaking Italian without having my hearing distorted by a head full of
viscous slime. I went to the bank at the
break and then to the coffee bar where I have gone every day to have my last
cappuccino and say goodbye. It was hard
to say goodbye to my teachers and friends from the school, but I managed to do
so without shedding any tears. It was
still very sad.
This Calzone Was Bigger Than My Head
The school had tried to arrange a farewell luncheon, but my
friend, Peter, and I were the only two who wanted to go. We went anyway because, hey, we had to eat,
no? I ordered a calzone that turned out
to be bigger than my head. It was very tasty,
but I didn’t even try to eat the second half.
It will taste great on the train to Rome tomorrow, I am sure. We ate at the restaurant below the apartment
where I have been living. Today, the
weather was finally warm enough to sit outside.
We had a very pleasant and relaxing lunch.
After lunch, I tried to go to the post office to buy some
stamps, but learned that the post office in Montepulciano closes for the day at
1:35 pm. I then set off down Via Gracciano
to buy my train ticket at the tourist office and shopped for a few gifts along
the way. Wouldn’t you know, now that I will
no longer have friends to call, I discovered a place to recharge my cellphone. I bought a train ticket to Rome and a bus
ticket to the station. The travel agent
was on a break when I arrived, so I had a nice chat in Italian with the other
girl who worked there until she returned.
I managed to conduct my business in Italian, but was not able to use my
Eurail pass to buy the ticket. It didn’t
really matter, because the ticket to Rome cost all of $12 and I can use the
pass for another ticket later. I will
have to make some reservations when I get to the train station in Rome. The Chiusi station is not manned on
I came home and started packing. Despite having restrained myself from
purchasing anything, I have still acquired a frightening amount of extra
stuff. I can leave the toiletries
behind, but I have a heavy textbook and some sandals a packet of the spice mix Fiorella
uses to make bruschetta that she gave me.
The backpack I bought at the market is slowly shredding, so I may have
to break down and buy a purse before I leave, just to get my treasures home
Fiorella and Me
Gosia and Me
Fiorella, Gosia and Kiriku
Pannacotta with Strawberries
Tonight, we had the best dinner yet. Fiorella made cannelloni stuffed with ricotta
and spinach and served with a béchamel sauce.
For the second course we had pears baked with pecorino and drizzled with
honey and then pannacotta (a type of whipped cream custard) with strawberries
for dessert. This felt completely decadent,
since the pears and cheese seemed like dessert to me. I had brought Fiorella a bottle of Vin Santo
from Assisi and we had a taste of that, as well. After dinner, we took some pictures with my
cell phone that I will one day upload to this blog, although I can’t say
when. I don’t have service and have
failed to upload them via Wi-Fi. I leave
for Rome early tomorrow. Maybe the Wi-Fi
in Rome will be faster.