Bongiorno from Toscana,
Next stop on the odyssey is a three-week stay in Iano, in the hills of Tuscany. The address – if you are interested in googling the map – is Podere le Monache, Iano, Montaine. The building has been converted from a nunnery and is offered for tourist accommodation by a local woman called Liliana. (Alessandro wryly commented that there was not much call for nunneries these days.) But, the accommodation is not just a renovation of a previous use. The marble window sills and thresholds and arched ceilings in the kitchen push this place into a slightly different realm.
Outside, the pool overlooks a spectacular green rural vista: dozens of grape vines and many olive groves.
When someone asked me for a reflection on Hong Kong this time last year, I posited that it represented a triumph of commerce over lifestyle. Here in Tuscany the people have consciously chosen a very different approach. This is a region of late breakfasts (collazione), closed shops during the middle three hours of the day and a leisurely approach to time. It’s not difficult to comprehend why and how they have come to place such great emphasis on food preparation and consumption. One tourism booklet tells us that we are in a land where good food is good value (Terra di Sapori).
Piazza John F. Kennedy
The weekend produce market in nearby Castelfiorentino – held, curiously, in Piazza John F. Kennedy – was a vibrant affair with lots of fresh viands (prodotti tipici) on sale. Tuscan vendors appear to adopt a very different approach to business. They appear to treat it as another aspect of living, to be enjoyed rather than merely tolerated. Instead of worshipping the cash, the Italians seem to treat the transaction as a mode of community engagement.
At one stage, the carabinieri arrived and immediately mixed in a congenial fashion among the crowd, many of whom appeared to be enjoying the social intercourse afforded by the occasion. (The blurb at Podere le Monache tells us that the Carabinieri is the “police force which deals with serious crimes, whereas the Vigili Urbani is the police force which deals with minor offences, control of traffic and maintains order”.)
On May Day, we headed to Certaldo, hoping to join some kind of Primo Maggio celebration. Instead, it seemed a normal sleepy day. It was not until the following day that we discovered that May 1st this year was the sesqui-centenary of the unification of Italy. Perhaps that fact mitigated against there being May Day celebrations in Certaldo. Anyway, not to worry because Certaldo is the home of Boccaccio. We saw a place which was probably his home, with signage which intimated a strong connection at any rate.
The fortified town on the top of the hill was quite worth the trip anyway. We were taken to the top of the hill (Certaldo Alto) by a funicolare (!). It was a pity I couldn’t remember any words to the famous folk song past the first two! Also, we got a chance to sample the famous local product: the cipollo, which is a sweet onion, out of which they sometimes make jam.
“Il Discorso del Re”
This is the phase of our trip called “our living holiday”. It’s been easy to fit into the local rhythm but sometimes a bit hard to prevent oneself from breaking into Dean Martin songs. Our charming little village has two restaurants and one shop. Nearby Montaine has a cinema. Playing there now is “Il Discorso del Re” (no translation required there I suppose).
The number of farmhouses and other small holdings which are vacant here in Tuscany illustrates the fact that rural-urban drift has not been counterbalanced by absolute population growth in Italy. The same is, of course, true in other agricultural economies. (In France alone, 28,000 farmhouses are advertised as places for short-term accommodation.) The landscape in Tuscany is very picturesque, especially at this time. They have had a good winter and everything is green and the hibernating green vipers are waking about now.
Ciao from Toscana,