Bongiorno from Italia,
We’re enjoying our own version of Fellini’s Dolce Vita here. Every day presents another delight to follow all of the previous ones. Yes, we took Hamlet’s advice to Ophelia and got ourselves to a nunnery. This is our accommodation for the next three weeks; converted from its previous use. The lodgings are in the village of Iano, high in the hills of Tuscany. It seems there’s not so much call for buildings dedicated to nuns any more.
We are enjoying the quietude of the village and the quick access to some memorable places, not to mention reading about the hilarious antics of the nuns in Boccaccio’s classic The Decameron, very un-nunlike.
One excursion in the region was to Volterra (so-named for its volcanic soil); a little bit more than a casual roam around the walled city. There in Volterra (outside the wall) there are remains of both Etruscan and Roman civilisations. The Roman ruins were called the Teatro Romano, containing – among other things – a substantial amphitheatre in functional condition. The town dates from 1398 and is alive and well. (The tourist euro supports a lot of the commerce there.) One of the hawkers on the streets dubbed us “Mr and Mrs Mondo”.
full of signs of man’s presence
In one of the highlights of the past few weeks, we travelled south to a place called Sassofortino to participate in an orienteering (orientamento) event in the hills above the village. Orienteering in Italy is apparently conducted in a mix of cultural and natural environments. The terrain was described by a pamphlet as “wild, yet full of signs of man’s presence”.
The orienteering club accepted our entry with alacrity and we ran around a course in 39 minutes and 42 seconds. One of the controls was placed in the village – in a local resident’s front yard! The residents were even on hand, dutifully shrugging their shoulders when asked if there was a thoroughfare through their property to the next control, as the map indicated. (Their feigned ignorance was, of course, at the direction of the course setters.)
After finishing the course, we dined with other runners – at a table with utensils, bottled wine and serviettes! Picture the scene: dining with table cloths etc in the forest. The Italians surely know how to execute the eating experience! This was a superb way to spend a beautiful sunny day.
Three weeks in Tuscany makes a visit to Florence (Firenze) a necessity. Florence is quite a big sprawling city which begets the same kind of brash indifference as all others do; the difference is the architecture and the streetscapes.
capital after unification
Florence was actually the capital city for about five years shortly after unification. Today it bars most vehicles from the centre and this means most residents walk or ride bikes around the city. Duomo Cathedral is a building of astonishing complexity and artistic value. Such structures always evoke a question in me: how did the people allow such expenditure on a “public” building when they themselves lived in poverty?
Florence is bissected nicely by the Arno River and over the Arno a famous bridge performs more than a bridging function. The Ponte Vecchio contains several shops. Most of these are jewellery stores, reflecting the history of Cellini’s craft in the area. A statue of Cellini interrupts the dozens of jewellery shops on the bridge. Two Americans sidled up to have a look. One said to the other, “I think he was a painter or something.” I hope they did some research on Cellini’s life after they were here.
Across the Arno, the lavish Palazza Pitti and the Giardini de Boboli were the grounds of the ruling family. It’s here that the ostentatious opulence stands in contrast to the humble living conditions of the nearby subjects. For some observers, this is profoundly offensive to modern egalitarian sensibilities. At least today the gardens and grounds (map calculation = 30 hectares) are maintained by the entry fees from the rich tourists rather than the toil from the backs of the underlings down in the valley. How many other tourists were perceiving the whole thing in this light is anybody’s guess. I’m prepared to accept that I was probably in a minority of one!
We have been doing quite a bit of bushwalking around the village. We also did a spot of horseriding the other day. The woman at the Montaione Tourist Information office – who also organised bridge and orienteering for us – calls as “La Gamba” (which directly translated means “the leg”. Apparently that means we are active. I’ll take that.
Until next time, Ciao.