Bongiorno da Montaione!
Our stay in Tuscany is coming to an end. And we’ve enjoyed every minute. In the meantime, there are still things to see and do.
Armed with the keen appreciation of the fact that visiting the birthplace of a famous person usually yields nothing more than tacky holiday snaps and the collective bemusement of the locals, we set out for Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo (da Vinci) was born here in 1452. I was hoping that a visit might just provide an insight into the grounding which was responsible for the cultivation of such a fertile mind. Such an insight is a bit difficult from a museum but it’s undoubtedly the best source. It’s believed that Leonardo’s mother, Caterina, was a servant of the family, and that the child was therefore illegitimate. (Caterina married another man about one year later and Leonardo resided with his father’s family throughout his childhood.)
The museo contains a fitting explication of his inventive life. As a result, we are now more adequately informed as to the immense contribution Leonardo made to humanity. His inventions spanned many fields: construction, food and textile manufacture, civil engineering, agricultural production, anatomy, transport, the military, flight and meteorology. It’s a long list.
Later in the same day, by pure accident we stumbled on what appears to be the reddest hotbed of political ferment – at least in these parts: Peccioli. This is another village perching neatly on the top of a hill. Like all of the others, it was built on the hilltop principally for defensive reasons but this also achieves the duel benefit of optimising the arable land still available for agriculture.
In the village – with characteristic narrow streets (viales and vicolos) normal commerce is being carried on, albeit at a very quiet pace. Among the shop windows are the offices of Partito Democratico, the FNP and la Rifondazione Comunista. News of results from recent regional elections are posted around the piazza. They herald some good results for the centre left parties (Centrosinistra). The great Giuseppe Garibaldi is commemorated on the wall of the piazza, too.
We have been sampling some beautiful food. In particular, the fresh produce is great. The fragole (strawberry) is in season now. (So, this is what strawberries are meant to taste like, eh?) We purchased a whole tray a few days ago and now awaken to the beautiful aroma of strawberry permeating the house every morning. Of course, this is not too hard to take. Also in season are cherries. Chinese Gooseberries are also plentiful here. (Apparently Italy produces more than New Zealand!)
We dined at a nice restaurant with Alessandro (a local) and Judith (an American academic with strong English accent, now living in Tuscany). Judith is an archaeologist who was able to confirm our theory about the Etruscans. It seems they fought the Romans unsuccessfully over many years and were eventually subsumed into the Roman population. Alessandro claims to be able to recognise Etruscan features in some local visages in the area. We have also met some other delightful characters.
Marco is 39 years old (Everyone here seems to want to know everyone else’s age.) who finds himself trapped in a non-lucrative family business in which his fealty towards his mother Fiorella outweighs ambition. He works as waiter at the premises of the bridge club and routinely apologises for his poor English. (As I keep telling him, we’re in your country!) He has a girlfriend and desire to see some more of the world but insufficient funds to enable it to occur. “I must work,” he says wistfully.
Alessandro is the president of the bridge club and saw to it that we were welcomed and shown some local sites and introduced to various people. He and his wife Vicenza (Vivi for short, because Vicenza is “not such a good name for a woman”) live in a house which stands on property which has been in the family for more than 600 years. Alessandro is a big bloke – both vertically and horizontally – and showed us great hospitality and generosity and would take nothing for our gratitude. He is notionally retired from work after running a number of different enterprises – internationally and locally. He’s a conservative thinker but has no qualms about befriending those of diametrically opposite persuasion. We are unquestionably indebted to him for what he’s done for us here.
Luigina acts as caretaker of the former nunnery where we are lodging. She’s an elderly woman who greets all and sundry with a very hearty “Bongiorno” every morning, including a big histrionic stoop-and-rise motion to accentuate the feeling. Apart from the administrative tasks, she doesn’t mind the heavy spadework, despite her age. Invariably, Luigina presents a chirpy countenance and is a real advertisement for the lifestyle here in the Tuscan hills.
Tomorrow we are on the move, towards the Mediterranean coast. We plan to travel through Pisa where, as folklore has it, all of the girls are as skinny as worm-eating lizards. Stand by for a report on the width of the women in Pisa.
Anyway, Ciao from Montaine.