Bongiorno from Toscana,
Picture the scene dear readers: we’re in a tastefully (let’s say, decorously) renovated stable overlooking verdant valley and sylvan hills (including the 14 towers of San Gimignano in the middle distance). 40 odd well-dressed people are at Nicoletta’s 61st birthday party, playing bridge on felt-topped tables with Nino acting as congenial host and MC *. After the bridge a sumptuous 8-course meal is served whilst Nicoletta publicly and gleefully unwraps her presents accompanied by a cordon of women on her left. On the tables is wine produced on the property. And on the wall a series of photographs showing German bombs falling towards the same valley in January 1944.
La Dolce Vita
We were privileged to be invited to this occasion and enjoyed it immensely. At the end of the evening we left amid hugs and double European kisses and promises to write. La Dolce Vita! (And the hosts thanked us for attending!!!)
bush walking Italian style
We ventured to a big national park for a spot of bushwalking earlier in the week. The area (north-east of Florence) is a composite of a national park – as Australians would understand the expression – and a forestry tract. It is called Foresta dei Santi (Casentino parca). We aimed for a small town in the centre called Badia Prataglia, in which two working timber mills still provide work for locals. In the 16th century the Benedictine monks authored the rules for timber getting which “still form the basis for every forestry handbook”.
mouflons and newts
The tourist book promised wildlife including deer, wolves, mouflons (had to look this one up – wild sheep) and newts. Our amble around the ridges and valleys of the 37 000 hectare park but didn’t yield any wildlife sightings. Perhaps they were scared off by our heavy tramping steps on the thick leaf litter.
Or perhaps it was the thunder from above. Thunder turned to rain and we suffered a drenching. It was a good thing we had the recent memory of being saturated on the Milford Track by which to measure our adversity. (It didn’t come close.)
The village of San Miniato beckoned on Sunday for the slow food market. Slow Food is an international movement that originated in Italy. There are convivia (plural of convivium) already existing, including in many Australian towns and cities. In San Miniato, the slow food market was a terrific experience.
Despite the language barrier, the producers were exuberant about their produce and many made valiant efforts to explain how the food was brought into being. Pork producer Gino proudly stated that his (Cinta = the variety) pigs are not slaughtered until they are three years old (normally 8 months), and only after they have been grazing on pasture. The meat is red. It was stressed by all of the producers that they use no chemicals and no antibiotics and no ammonia (to polish the rice). One pamphlet goes like this:
The whole town of San Miniato has been declared a Slow City (Cittàslow). According to the official blurb this means “here the visitor can enjoy artistic and natural beauty, appropriate service and simple genuine hospitality”. I can affirm all of these to be so.
tax collection centre
The town of San Miniato was built on the orders of Frederick II (of Germanic stock). In 1218 he built his castle which became the centre for tax collection in central Italy.
May is the month of re-awakening here after winter. So says a tourist brochure: “Maggio is the month of the blossoming of the long Tuscan season. This is a region that certainly won’t offer you a pre-packaged shrink-wrapped product, but a guarantee of age-old history, culture and great traditions.” Bravo!
Ciao dal Toscana
* The Italians play their bridge in a much more ebullient fashion than we are used to. I can’t help wondering what the school ma’am types in Australia who shoosh every murmur would do here; they’d give up in exasperation!