A cool, cloudy Tuscan spring morning
I just reviewed a few of these entries, and oh heavens…please realize I am not doing any editing (obviously!!) before posting. My time to write is sporadic…or very late like tonight…so I am bang-banging the keys and hoping to get most of it right.
(*Author’s Note: I have now had time to revisit all my blog entries AND do a bit of editing…thank goodness!)
So…allora…the day brought clouds, which added to the chill. It’s an unusually cool spring according to Ray, and I guess we should be grateful it’s not the opposite! I do think I’m acclimating, however, but maybe won’t announce it just in case I decided I need that other cute sweater I saw (wink!). On a good note, we actually were out the door and on the road by a little after 8:00 today…bravi for us! We made a stop at the nice gas station just outside of Castellina on our side, and popped in for a quick breakfast sandwich (mozzarella and tomato on foccaccia) and a cappuccino. Our stop earlier in the week proved that the gentleman operating the bar was quite a cappuccino artist, so I mentioned that when we went in…buon giorno to the artiste! He seemed amused, and when we went to get our cups, I found the cutest bear face looking at me! Needless to say, I was tickled to death and thanked him profusely. Marty’s was a beautiful pattern design. It’s hard to have to stir such a thing up! Wonder what the next stop will bring?
We buckled up and hit the Autostrada for Cortona…perhaps best known from “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Another marvelous hill town, it sits perched about two-thirds up a rather large hill…or better, small mountain. More winding and turning, and we arrived, finding a parking space without too much time consumed in the endeavor. It was market day, and we took our time wandering through the small area where folks were selling linens, clothing, scarves, shoes, toys, kitchen items, fruit, vegetables, cheeses, seafood, and pork items. It was beautiful!! What a hubbub of activity--socializing, gazing, commerce, haggling, laughter, and exchanging of cash for goods on the very area where the same has commenced for how many hundreds upon hundreds of years. I was a little surprised in that most of the shoppers appeared to be the locals buying what they needed, in one form or another. The produce was absolutely gorgeous…some things I’ve never seen before, and others more beautiful than I’ve ever seen before. There were golden bell peppers the size of footballs! The miniature purple artichokes looked like something from a fairy garden, and believe me…you have not seen a true roma tomato until you see the ones in this market! And oh…the different lettuces…heavenly!
After purchasing a couple of scarves (have to keep my neck warm, yes?), we wandered into the main piazza, a small area dominated by the large stone staircase leading to the government building, and watched. Seeing the steps as the best grandstand, we took our seats there and initiated a grand time of visually taking in Cortona on a Saturday. There were the tourists, no doubt, but also the Cortonians out enjoying the day…families strolling, friends shopping, elderly gents warming the benches (dressed to kill, of course!). The cutest little toddler of no more than 3 especially entertained me, out with his Nonno (grandfather), as he delighted in his own version of a pigeon round up.
We pulled ourselves up from this living cinema and commenced to walk up…way up…a grand, spiral-y walk way towards the upper portions of the town that after about a 20 minute climb (decorated with superb vistas) lead one to the Church of St. Margherita. In short, she lived in the 1200’s and after an early life that provided a lot of town gossip in Assisi from where she hailed, she got outta’ town to Cortona. Some time later, she made a true conversion and devoted her life to serving the poor as a steward of the Lord. Upon her death, this church was built to honor her, and she is buried within it. Well, that’s not totally true…she’s in it, but she’s not buried…nope. She’s in full view up at the front. Not unusual in Italy – I’ve seen any number of mummified-like popes and such, as thus is St. Magherita. It’s a little creepy the first time you see something like this, but it becomes more intriguing as you realize you’re gazing at someone who did some pretty terrific things for mankind, as well as walked as a human some 700 to 800 years ago. The church itself was incredible…detailed and ornate décor abounded, along with massively large and beautiful paintings adorning the side walls. Initially, we were only 2 of 4 people inside, other than a small nun who must’ve been the caretaker on duty. She never stopped, but slowly plodded along up and down the church floors, keeping an eye on all the doings, I’m sure. There was a sound system of some sort playing Gregorian chants…why are those so pleasing and haunting, and oh how perfect for the setting at hand. At some point, a door somewhere within the church closed, causing a reverberation that seemed to shake one at the core. I was taken aback for just a moment, and wondered what within had been awaked at that moment to react to this. Who knows, but it was interesting and I liked it.
We strolled and pondered in this upper area of Cortona for some time. It’s ancient, yet it’s lived in today, cared for, and so amazingly tidy…as 99% of rural Italy is. We encountered probably no more than a handful of other tourists at any given time up there, as well. Nice. A quick look in the very humble church dedicated to St. Nicolo, then some more walking to a larger church dedicated to St. Frances. It was amazing…very cavernous and astute, yet warm. The pews in the rear half were impressively carved with large wooden scroll work. The wear of time was evident, and I couldn’t help but sit and let my mind wander a bit. It’s also noted that this church contains a sliver from what is said to be the actual cross that Christ was crucified on. It’s contained within an ivory cross on display at the alter. Pretty mind-boggling. This church also contained 3 items from the latter part of St. Frances’ life…one of his tunics, a Bible that belonged to him, and a small pillow.
Time to eat…pranza (lunch) was found at the Osteria di Teatro, right across from the theatre in Cortona. Hmmm…a pattern, these restaurants by the theatre?? Okay by me! We both had the large tortellini…or tortellono….mine in a pesto type sauce, stuffed with artichokes, and Marty’s in a truffles sauce stuffed with ricotta. Deeee-lish! Salads with mixed greens and veggies (ensalata mista) and a Tuscan chardonnay rounded it out.
Onward to the streets for more backstreet wandering, and thus we did! The church steps beckoned again as the sun was now out in full force. Oh, the warmth felt divine! After some more people-watching, we made a bee-line for gelato - un copertta piccola per me, caffé e tirmisu, per favore (a small cup for me, coffee and tirmisu, please), hiking up yet another steep roadway to the cathedral…and a view to take your breath away. I had seen this cathedral a year ago on a very brief stop in Cortona, and happened upon a violin and cello rehearsal. It was magical and brought a wave of emotion as I witnessed it that day. Stepping into the cathedral, I found myself experiencing the same thing. Memory? Not sure. There are moments in Italy when this hits you…a strong, powerful sensory awareness that defies words or explanation, and is usually expressed with a lump in the throat and some misty views. I consider it a sweet gift and would rue the day I no longer am visited with it.
Our little Punta...zoom zoom!
Late afternoon, and as Willie says…on the road again! We arrived home early enough this time to enjoy a leisurely glass of wine, then allowance for me to take a walk. Yeah, so I brought the exercise bands and all that…no time!! I’ve tried to work out a bit here in there, but alas. Anyhow, my walk down the dirt road that leads from Casamonti to the SR222 was grand. Early evening low sun was draped with enough cloud to create the most enchanting sight as I looked west over the distant mountains. The gentle valley below was beginning to twinkle with light, and the hues of grays and blues veiling the backdrop of hills defied any color labeling known to man. Beautiful in any light, the silvery green of the olive groves seemed to become mystical in this light. I don’t know if actual cuckoo birds live here, but I heard a distinct “cuck-koo” as I made my way. How fun! At the road, I turned back and began towards Casamonti. However, the seeming path leading off to the east through the first olive grove called too strongly and I wandered off on it. A spring evening stroll through a Tuscan olive grove amongst bright green clover, delicate yellow flowers, and multiple clusters of small white flower bunches that could’ve easily been the finest lace somehow magically floating just above the tips of green – how could I be so lucky? As I ventured back to the dirt road, I crested a small rise and looked east. The crown on the evening’s glory…the moon rising over the hills and vineyards. If this doesn’t make one giddy, nothing will!! It was a silvery, soft buttery gold orb working its way above this ancient landscape, almost daring me to watch it climb higher. I, however, needed no daring and lingered until the chill sent me onward.
A warm dinner in town topped off yet another grand day. Tomorrow marks one week…already…here in Italy at Casamonti. Where did it go?? I almost think that time passes differently here. The ancient is the now, the 24 hours in one day can be gone in a what seems to be a fraction of normal time passage. Part of the magic, maybe…part of what beckons you to come back.
Paula A. Reynolds
Traveler or Tourist?
All photos used in this blog were taken by the author, the author's husband or friends, or found by way of images.google.com. Photo credit is given when possible.