May 20th, Sunday ~ Return to Pornanino, on to Livernano, Chiesa di Santa Maria, and an evening of cooking
One of those “I’ll sleep as late as I want” mornings, and that I did! It felt wonderful, and I relished the moments of slowness and none of that “I’ve got to get this or that done…!” hovering overhead. Which, admittedly, hasn’t been a huge problem here (I know…go ahead and hate me for a moment or two.). Probably this is what a true vacation is intended to include, but I seem to have a somewhat difficult time doing so. When I’m out of my own little fish tank, I have a sense of almost urgency to see and do and touch and taste and walk and smell and sit on anything and everything that can be squeezed in. Not that I find that a bad thing, mind you, but that the quiet, slow times are good, as well. After all, having this quaint, wonderful spot in the affectionately nicknamed rabbit hole (aka the Capre apartment, which I think I mentioned in an earlier post is the old stall area from the old farm days and beyond) at the gorgeous Casamonti is an amazingly grand place to practice some of that slow motion stuff. I’ve told Marty of how writing has become a renewed joy here, of how I love being able to sit and let it flow. My exclamation over the phone regarding this was met with a pregnant pause, then the reply, “So you’re telling me you’ll have to come for extended periods of time to Italy to write?”. Hmmmm….
After some home-cooked cowboy style coffee and a visit from Toya, I peered out to the gray skies threatening to open up, but also noted it seemed less chilly today. Seemed like a good day for getting back out there on the road, and my first stop was planned for Pornanino, the olive oil estate, for the gifts I wished to purchase since I’d received a call back from Matteo to come on out.
Taking that lovely, bumpy road as my thoroughfare the day before, absolutely washed in bright Italian sun, I was on the same path but with a completely different palette of colors, textures, and sights. I would probably prefer warm, sunny skies for 90% of my time here, but having been able to watch this pazzo maggio (crazy May) offer its variety of rain, clouds, and sun has held its own special charm. I’ve watched the gentle by appearance, but eternally feisty Miz Toscana change costumes and moods as the whim suits her fancy. Today, she felt a bit more somber and quiet, decorating the landscape with hues of steely grey and blue swirled together in that magical, winter sky way. And it was beautiful.
photo courtesy of oliveoil.chiantionline.com
Matteo was waiting for me at the olive production barn, and we entered into a wonderful conversation that spanned about an hour. What a gift these encounters are, always leaving me feeling so blessed to have the opportunity to not only be in this land, but to engage with the human element in such satisfying ways. We exchanged email information, I assured Matteo that they now had friends in Texas to visit if they ever ventured that way, and my purchase and I left Pornanino with a smile.
I ventured just a short ways down the gravel road, at Matteo’s suggestion, and rounded a sharp turn onto another unpaved roadway towards Livernano, a small, ancient village turned agriturismo. The drive, like so many, was breathtaking. I crossed a small, burbling stream presenting itself dark and mysterious under the leaden skies. I made note to return here if I was given a sunny day…my feet were aching to walk in this medieval spot. Onward up the steep path, winding through the vineyards, and I crested upon another magnificent hilltop, taking a brief drive through the lovingly restored Livernano. It was quiet, no one in sight, and I only lingered briefly. My efforts were well rewarded, though, as I made my way back down, stopping here and there to relentlessly try, in vain, to somehow absorb it all, knowing that my camera’s attempts were mere exercises in mediocrity. Even the best camera held in front of the best eye can capture only a fraction of this grandness.
I made my way back towards Castellina on the same gravel path, but took a turn off at the sign marked Chiesa di Santa Maria…the Church of St. Mary. The signage here, as I mentioned earlier, is very good…once one learns how to interpret the symbols (not hard, even for us Americans), and they are quite helpful in deciding to turn off or not. Only problem is that I want to turn off at every single one - gah! Anyhow, I drove in a light rain just a ways until I came upon what appeared to be a not-long abandoned farmhouse (oooo…a fixer-upper!! just need that pocketful of never-ending millions), with a small, neglected, simple stone block church. It intrigued me, and I noted two open doors along the side where a newer cement pad for some intended but forgotten purpose lay. Popping open the car door and umbrella, I gingerly found my way through the tall grass (assuring myself that there really are no poisonous snakes in Italy…right??) to the open doors, hoping they would lead me into the church. Swirling grayish clouds had enmeshed into solid pregnant gray as the rain picked up and the lighting grew dim, making it hard to see well inside. Alas, no passageway to the interior, but I was privy to two mysterious little dusty old rooms that appeared to be more stall-like for use in the past several hundred years, give or take. I wandered to the church door, tried to open it, but the lock was secure. A modern lock, so obviously I wasn’t the only seeker to have come this way. I took a few moments to look at the farm house, let my imagination run with just how I would restore it, including turning the fine cement pad adjacent to the church into an inviting, covered patio (the view was stellar from here)…maybe a little wine stop for travelers?...or a fantastic place for house concert type music!!....or just a private little paradise to invite our friends to. Dreaming is a fun thing and I left, as I seem to always do here, smiling.
Back on the rain coated main road, I chose to head to the north and explore a few of the turn offs I had noted but not been down. The day was quiet, not many people out due to the rain – a perfect day to continue my diesel driven expedition as a modern day explorer. I found myself going down paths to once-upon-a-time villages now redressed as rental rooms or wineries or restaurants with names such as Pietra Fitta (the largest of these run, and by appearance still inhabited by residents…beautiful old church at the crest – with a very tight turn around radius that I inched out of when I found the dead end!), Querceto, Casuccia, Carpineto, and Monestero. When I purchase Chianti back home in Texas, I always check to see where it was produced. I have a feeling I’ll be recognizing a lot more of these names!
Home again, the rabbit hole awaited my return like a little lighthouse in the dark of the drizzly evening. Time to decide what to prepare for an early dinner, so I rummaged to see what was available to use as my culinary puzzle pieces to hopefully create a nice product. Toya and Picina must’ve sensed this, as they both made an appearance about the time the package of prosciutto hit the table.
Feeling well-fitted with enough to create from, I embarked on the simple, yet joyous task of preparing food here in Tuscany. At one point, as I chopped away, I stopped, saying aloud, “Ha! I am IN TOSCANA, cooking real Italian food in Italian style…in an ancient place…under this Tuscan sky!!! Oh WOW!!!”
My creation for this night, now named
Pasta alla Capre
in honor of my abode:
Sliced leeks (I used 2 smallish ones)
chopped garlic (I always go heavy...3 or so large cloves for this)
Place in skillet with ample olive oil and sauté until softened but not mushy
Add a splash of red wine, balsamic, chopped tomato, fresh chopped rosemary, and fresh basil –
allow to simmer until reduced to a nice viscosity. Salt and pepper to taste.
Prepare fresh tortellini (I used spinach and ricotta tortellini) by boiling water, dumping pasta in, then turning fire off. About 4 minutes later, it will be perfect.
Drain tortellini, cover with the reduced veggie mixture, top with torn fresh basil and parmesan…pour a nice glass of Chianti, maybe add a few crispy breadsticks, and…Buon Appetitol!
I was able to have a long conversation with Marty while I ate, so it was almost like I could share the meal with him. Again, food by God’s design, is to be shared and enjoyed with others to receive its full function and joy. I told him I would attempt to recreate this for our first meal together when I returned home.
Day One solo…or Giorno uno da sola. I’d returned to the bed upstairs the night before, having spent the prior 5 nights happily in my little cocoon downstairs. I must admit…a real bed felt good, but it’s funny how I tossed and turned much more than I did in my cocoon. Something to be said for that swaddling thing, possibly?
I made a slow morning of it, and decided to nix the idea of a separate breakfast and lunch -- packed a few snacks, and swung by for cappuccino and a sandwich at Simone’s. It was surprisingly quiet, but normal for a late Saturday morning I was told. I queried if Simone was from Castellina, and found out he actually lived in a small village closer to Firenze by the name of Montefiordelfi. He was born there and had lived there most all of his life. I commented on how unusual that is for our country, and how I found that a nice thing. He concurred, but said it also cannot be a good thing. Yes, the ying and yang, the two sides of everything. I suppose the secret is to be splendidly aware of that, and make the most of all angles.
Today presented itself as a spectacularly beautiful, even warmish, spring day! I even dared to put on a short sleeve dress…the staple of my ill-packed wardrobe. Setting out on an only partially predetermined course, I was thrilled with the idea of traveling on any road that struck my fancy. I’d hoped to swing back by Pornanino, the olive oil place, and maybe pick up a gift or two…placed a call, left a message…and decided what the heck, take the gravel road that way anyhow and see where I ended up. No return call from Matteo, but oh, what a drive. I stopped more than once, got out, gazed across the green, patterned hills and valleys, and listened to the quiet, punctuated only by happy birdsong. The small spring flowers seemed to boast extra loud today in the warm sunshine…the pinks, lavenders, reds, fushias, purples, yellows, and whites were so beautiful - sometimes integrated, other times wanting to be undisturbed in their color-scapes. As I made my way down the road, I noted any number of off roads, none terribly freshly worn, some looking as possibly a chariot were the last to lay tread there. These intrigue me…they must go somewhere, or at least did. Where do they lead now? I’ve not dared go down any unmarked ones for not wanting to trespass, but I do admit I’ve been terribly tempted.
On this first day alone, I was keenly aware of the beauty that solo travel can offer. Not that I don’t love traveling with Marty or friends – that is splendid in many ways and for many reasons – but being gifted with the chance to travel alone for brief periods has opened my being to what an experience it can be. Thank you, my extraordinarily generous husband and love, for gifting me in this way. This style of experiencing things allows, at least for me, a liberating of emoting that I wasn’t aware of until my first go at it last year. Not to say that I somehow suppress my emotions…maybe I do more than I realized?...but I find that when alone and unobserved, I find almost immediate, even surprising, risings of emotion that sweep over me like the yellow broom flower in full Tuscan bloom. It’s a freeing experience. I don’t want to convey that I am somehow suppressed when with others – totally untrue – nor do I wish to be any sort of hermit vagabond. It’s just that these slices of solo travel offer a new, reframed perspective. But I have also found that it would most likely be a short-lived thing if I extended it more than a week or two, most likely. Rich experiences, joy, emotion, food, and all of life’s other gifts are best shared with those you love.
One of the typical "thoroughfares" through a tiny village
Passing Pornanino and not having received a call back from Matteo or Francesca, I decided to go on to Gaiole in Chianti and follow some of the castle/village itineraries outlined in the pamphlets Kathleen and I had picked up a few days prior. The back roads and gravel paths were particularly empty this day, most likely due to the yearly road race of some sort that was going on. Folks will line the country roads, finding spots to view the spectacle, as well as take pictures. The short time I spent here and there on the more major Tuscan roads was filled with exciting moments as sporadic lines of Ferraris, Alpha Romeos, BMWs, Porsches, and other fast cars zoomed by me and my little Punto. It got especially adrenaline producing when a corner was rounded, and there was one of these speedsters…in my lane! Yep, a good day to stick to gravel roads.
I rattled along at a nice slow, country road pace, thankful for the chance to do this, as well as noting again just how free of cars or others these roads were today. Not that they’re ever busy by any sense of our definition of the word, but that they were notably free of the occasional passer by. I stopped at a small bridge crossing a stream. Hearing the burble of water, I had to get out and see what I could see. Below was a beautifully clear stream, rolling and tossing itself over rocks as it passed through a canopy of pine and other trees. It was a sweet sight and a soothing sound to behold. I watched for a bit, yearning to somehow wet my toes. As I thought on it, I marveled at the fact that so many had come to this same point for hundreds, probably thousands, of years, foraging it on foot or horseback, stopping to drink, rest, maybe bathe. I was here this day, just as someone else had been yesterday, 500 years ago, 1000 year ago, and beyond. And we were all somehow connected by our brief moment of appreciation of this small stream of clear, life-sustaining water.
I continued on gravel roads, some paved roads and found my way to places like Lecchi, a beautiful, small village with geranium graced windows and roads only one very small car could barely traverse. Mental note to come back here and explore some day. Other roads took me to Poggo San Polo, an ancient village with a church, closed this day, and Castello di Ama, the old castle turned winery in the hamlet of Ama.
Walking up to Catello di Tornano from the parking area
Back on a paved road, I saw the sign for Castello di Tornano, another castle noted in the literature, and made an abrupt turn to wind my way there. All of these castles and strategic villages are located on hilltops. Where else can you keep an eye on your enemies? For us modern day seekers, it sure affords a grand drive to the destination. Tornano didn’t disappoint as I wound up the steep hillside through countless, artistically laid out vineyards and was greeted by the imposing tower. However, as I discovered, imposing is no longer applicable to this ancient stronghold that originated sometime in the 1100’s. It’s been carefully restored and is now the most amazing get-away, something you’d expect to see in the travel publications or a Bride’s magazine ad. The interior is beautiful, decked out in enough antique, castle appropriate fittings to make one feel assured of truly being inside a castle, while the grounds boast of a gorgeous, organically shaped pool, shaded seating areas, and views to die for. I met the young fellow at the reception area, chatted a bit, and with his most gracious offer and accommodating attitude, I was invited to roam about all I wanted. I wandered inside the main area, first checking out the bathroom. The fittings were incredible…I even took photos as I envisioned something like this for a bathroom redo at home! The public rooms were warm, stately, and inviting, no doubt designed to provide an optimal holiday to the guests. As I climbed the tower, I noted several doors for rooms converted to suites. How cool of a stay would that be? The view at the top was grand, a panorama of 360 degrees of beauty. However, I paused to note that those who stood here 800 years ago certainly saw the view through a different lens as they were constantly on one side or the other of besieged.
Moving along, I noticed that just as Friday, the morning clear sky was being taken over by dark grey, and rain was moving in. Sure enough, a gentle shower began and the ambiance took on that mysterious air that such change brings. I headed towards Gaiole proper, determined to find the elusive Spaltenna church that Kathleen and I had given up on. Several turn arounds, a real good study of the map, and I thought I had it figured out. The GPS was of no help…no entries found…nor was signage anywhere that I could see. Following my instinct, I wound up a town street, turning in the direction that I had seen the tower from while coming towards town. At the final critical turn, lo and behold…a sign announcing this way to Spaltenna. Odd. Generally, the signage is pretty good for all these old sites. Anyhow, I found my way to the old Romanesque church, parked, and walked to its entrance. Open today…that’s good. I wandered in, again alone as most of this day had been no matter where I was. The church was not of anything notable, at least visually, and I think its import was more in its history, styling, and something along the lines as the mother church for Chianti. I was glad I had finally garnered a visit with this old dame. Back out in the drizzle, I headed downhill. (Note: I later learned this is actually a 10th century monastery that has been redone into a nice hotel and event center.)
The next leg of the pamphlet itinerary lent itself nicely to my position, so I continued on, up another lovely road to a hilltop village called Vertine. Small but imposing, its medieval wall greets your arrival in a way that is at once inviting, but also quite imposing. I pondered for a moment as to whether I should park and wander in, or just gaze. Rain and a late afternoon caused me to err on the side of just gazing, making note to come back again, and I continued on. A small cemetery just down the road caught my eye, so I stopped. Italian cemeteries, as I think I mentioned before, are walled just as the ancient towns were, and are often somewhat elaborate. This particular one was simple but elegant, and seemed almost forgotten, even if cared for. I looked upon it for a moment, wondering if its inhabitants were countless generations of the small village behind me, and thought on our very short walk here on this planet.
A beautiful and old fig tree stood just outside the cemetery walls and caught my eye. It was loaded with figs, not quite ripe. Its beauty and life were a poetic juxtaposition to the remains so close by, but also a lovely reminder that life is cyclical…we have our moment here, we produce fruit, we leave behind seeds, and we pass on to our spiritual lives to live again.
Bar Italia on the inside
I puttered on down the gravel road that was briefly mine this day, just as all the others had been, and eventually eased out onto the pavement towards Castellina. By the time I arrived, the gray had cleared, the sun was shining warm, and I enjoyed a bit of time on the steps of Bar Italia in the sun with a Diet Coke, the passer bys, and some internet catch up.
A quick trip to the COOP for lettuce, a phone charge card, and some prosciutto, and I was headed home to Casamonti. I put soup #2 on to warm, took a pot of it over to Anna Rita who was hosting a tour group tasting, poured a glass of Chianti, and sat in the sun a bit more with resident guest greeter pooch, Toya, and the lovely black and white kitty, Pepina. They were anticipating their treats from the Texas lady, of course, but we did enjoy time just sunning as they took their turns getting scratched. Not to neglect anyone, I told Toya and Pepina it was the fowls turn, and we fetched the rest of the corn tortillas in the fridge and commenced to feed the worrisome red hens, the stoic lone goose, and the always talking ducks. Little did all these creatures know the treats for them were an only thinly disguised ploy for the huge treat the experience was for me!
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.