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Posts tagged ‘Montepulciano’

Color Your World: 120 Days of Crayola; Timberwolf Walkways

 

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

 

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

 

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

 

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

 

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

Timberwolfish Walkway in Montepulciano, Italy

Day 102 of the 120 Days of Crayola is here! Today’s color is Timberwolf, a gray, brown, tanish color to be sure! These unique walkways were found in Montepuciano, Italy. Montepulciano is a hilltown and these are the shortcuts through the village, from the top of the village down to the lower village. Or you could take the road which circles the village, which is much longer! A little steep you think? At least there is a handrail! This is where I attended Il Sasso, the Italian Language School, one of the most memorable times I spent in Italy!  For a short post about my experience at Il Sasso, look HERE!

Timberwolf is known as Old Man Granite Gray, the color for New Hampshire in the “State Crayon Collection.”

This post is just one of many in the Color Your World: 120 Days of Crayola Challenge

Check out some of the other 150+ challenge participants, it’s amazing what we have done with the Crayola colors!

 

 

Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge: Roads

My favorite road in the world!  The road to La Foce, home of Iris Orego and her beautiful house and gardens outside Montepulciano, Italy ! Enjoy!

The Road to La Foce, Italy

The Road to La Foce, Italy

Montepulciano Revisited

Our Apartment, San't Antonio

Our Apartment, San’t Antonio

We are back in Montepulciano, making it our base camp for exploring the surrounding hill towns of Tuscany. After renting a car in Florence and driving to San Gimignano, now here we are on Saturday evening getting settled in at Sant’ Antonio, the restored apartments on the grounds of an old monastery, in the hills around the village of Montepulciano. Late afternoon is spent meeting other guests from all over the world, who will also be spending a week here in Tuscany exploring. After our brief introduction to each other, the local maps were passed out, and we all decided to head out to the grocery store in Montepulciano before the store closes at 6pm.  The store is not open on Sundays, so we must get in and get out if we want anything to eat or cook while we are at Sant’ Antonio.  It was a mad dash to the grocery store! Parking is limited, and the store very busy, so we parked in the church parking lot and walked down to the store. A hint in the grocery store; we had to put one euro in the grocery cart to use it in the store and when we brought it back in we got the euro back. Also, do not touch the fruit or vegetables without putting on the plastic gloves that are provided! We were warned by our hosts about this!  Although, when I shopped in the smaller shops up the hill in Montepulcinao, this did not seem to be the case. In the smaller shops the attendant was quick to help me with my selections.

We explored the hill towns during the day, all the guests going in different directions in their cars.  It was fun to sit on the veranda in the evenings and over a glass of wine and nibbles find out where everyone went during the day and what they liked about the places they went to. Our neighbors to the left of us were German and Spanish.  Our neighbors to the right Canadian, and in the family apartment a group, who came here every year from Hawaii.  There were other guests in apartments here as well, so we were a large group of 25 or so. On one evening, during the week, we all came together to share an evening meal, prepared and served by our hosts, in the large meeting room on the premises.  There was also a pool here in case you didn’t want to do a thing but relax. The other option is staying in the village of Montepulciano itself. Sant’ Antonio now offers apartments in town as well.

Another time I stayed in the Politian Apartments, when I came to Montepulciano to study Italian at the Il Sasso Language School.  At that time, I didn’t have a car.  The Politian Apartment was in the village.  It was a huge two bedroom apartment with all the amenities, (washer, dryer, microwave, big stove and oven) and tastefully decorated with antiques. There was a beautiful walled garden that I enjoyed sitting in to do my homework. The owners were on the premises and more than helpful.  There were other guests staying in other apartments, but I was up early and off to school so didn’t get to know them. We all seemed to have different agendas as they only stayed a few days and then were gone and replaced by new guests. The shops and restaurants are plentiful and the locals very friendly. Parking is LIMITED and outside of the village.  The streets are pedestrian-only, but a tiny, tiny bus goes through town from the bottom of the hill to the tippy top. It only stops at the bottom of the village, (the entrance), a designated place in the middle, and the very top of the village. If you stay in the village be prepared to haul your luggage up, up, up the hill at some point!  Pack light! For more highlights of Montipulciano see past blog posts about the Politian Apartments and the Il Sasso Language School. These are some reflections if you want to make Montepulciano your home base for visiting Tuscany.

Next we are off to the hill towns!

For More information about Sant’ Antonio Apartments see: http://www.santantonio.it

For more information about Politian Apartments see: http://www.politian.com

Traipsing Through Tuscany- Florence and San Gimignano

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

Sculpture

Rooftop Sculpture in Florenc

Tte Window of the World

The Window of the World

Thinking about our visit to Florence I can’t get over all the beautiful art we have seen in the Uffizi Gallery, the Pitti Palace, the Duomo Museum and the Accademia. I was especially excited over the artwork of Artemisia Gentileschi, (1593-1653) that SB pointed out to me in the Uffizi Gallery ( Judith Beheading Holofernes) and the Pitti Palace (The Conversion of Magdalena, Judith and Her Maidservant and David and Bathsheba). I first read about Artemisia Gentileschi in a book called, The Passion of Artemisia: a Novel, by Susan Vreeland. Delving into the themes of art, history and the lives of women, this is is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Gentileschi painted many pictures of strong and suffering women from myth and the Bible. Her works include victims, suicides, warriors and especially, the Judith story. When you read the book and then see her paintings, her real life and her paintings intertwine and give you perspective of the times and how this woman lived and painted, and why she did so. Even her style of painting called chiaroscuro, which represents a strong contrast between light and dark, gives us a glimpse of her life.

One of Gentileschi’s works, David and Bathsheba, completed in 1635, had been found after centuries of deterioration, in a storage deposit area of the Pitti Palace, revealing decay, color flaking, due to improper storage conditions, and humidity damage. The re-evaluation of the Gentileschi’s courageous life and works were brought into focus with the attention of the Florence Committee of National Museum of Women in the Arts, who decided to fund the restoration of David and Bathsheba. Today, Gentileschi is regarded as the most progressive and expressionist painters of her generation.

Thinking of that book, brought to mind another book, called The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant. This historical novel of Florence is a story of love, art, religion and power  as told by Allessandra Cecchi when her father brings a young painter to paint the chapel walls of the family’s pallazzo. This story is told while Florence is caught in a state of turmoil imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control and the Medici State, with it’s love of luxury, learning and art. On our walking tours of Florence we learned a great deal about the Medici family and Savonarola.  Recalling that book, brought to mind The Lord’s Supper, painted on the wall of the Santa Maria della Grazie Church in Milan, which I have been lucky enough to see.

I was curious to learn how all this beautiful artwork was saved during WWII. Now, I am currently reading, Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis, by Robert Edsel. In particular I am interested in, General Karl Wolff, a German officer, who risked his life to save the collections of the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace. Robert Edsel also wrote, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and  the  Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, now made into a motion picture of the name, The Monuments Men.

San Gimignano, twenty-five miles south of Florence, will be our first stop on our way to Montepulciano, where we will be making our home base for our Tuscany visit.

The parking lot outside the main gate, Porta San Giovanni, was very busy as we approached.  The village itself is pedestrian only. Getting in the car parking queue we had to wait for a car to come out before we could go in and take the spot. One in, one out.  San Gimignano gives you a glimpse of a real Italian countryside experience, but with just enough shops and restaurants added to make it interesting for tourists.  The towers are restored replicas of the original, but they look authentic.

San Gimignano is a small, walled, medieval hill town with fourteen towers of various heights, replicated of the original seventy-two. Before the walls were developed around the town, these towers were a refuge, when ruffians and rival city states were sacking the town.  If under attack, the tower owners would set fire to the external wooden staircase, leaving the sole entrance to the house and it’s strongholds, unreachable. Today you can see all these tiny slit entrances way up on the second story of the towers, minus stairs to get to them. Also, notice that the buildings are made of different colored stones and brick. Heavy stones were used for the bottom floors and lighter cheaper bricks for the upper floors. In the year 1300, about 13,000 people lived within the walls. In 1348, a six-month plague left the town with 4,000 survivors. Crushed and demoralized, the town came under Florence’s rule and was forced to tear down it’s towers, and the trade route was re-directed away from San Gimignano. The town never recovered and poverty drove the well-preserved city to be as it is today.

Our walk takes us through the Porta San Giovanni up to the Piazza del Duomo, and the church itself, which features Sienese Gothic art_ Old Testament to the left___New Testament to the right. Further up the hill is the is Sant’Agostino Church, built by the Augustinians, who arrived in 1260. Here there are English speaking friars, who are happy to tell you about the church and their way of life. We stop and have lunch at the Locanda di Sant’Agostino, right next door to the church on a beautiful small piazza. The restaurant serves typical Tuscan home cooked meals, which would be paninos, pizza, pasta and insalatas, served with a local fruity white wine.   Walking back down the hill, along the ramparts, there are superb views of the Tuscan countryside. Soon we are inside the Rocca, originally another walled defense area, now a small walled garden of olive trees, where a group of men are singing and playing instruments. I loved our time in San Gimignano, but it is time to move on to Montepulciano. For more interesting history and scenes of Sam Gimignano, view the movie, Tea With Mussolini, a 1999 drama of the plight of American and English expatriate women during WWII. Most of the scenes are of Florence and San Gimignano, where the movie was filmed. In particular it reveals the artworks inside the Duomo of San Gimignano and how the women came to be there and tried to save the art. For more readings about the war and art see my  blog postings on Milan,  https://cadyluckleedy.com/2014/02/14/one-day-in-milan/ and the War in Val  D’ Orcia, https://cadyluckleedy.com/2013/04/11/war-in-val-d-orcia near Montepulciano. See you next in Montepulciano!

Il Sasso A Day at School

Acquacheta, an Awesome Eating Experience!

Acquacheta, an Awesome Eating Experience!

Day One
I had to take a test.  After finishing one third of a page on page one, I was whisked away for the oral section of the placement testing. I could hardly speak. I was placed in the Beginners Class which was fine by me.  I was in that class for ten minutes when I was whisked off to the second floor and placed in a class with four men and one other woman.  My first thought was “I have been demoted to lower than the beginners class, ” but as it turned out there were so many beginners we were separated into two classes.  I could hardly call my classmates beginners. Two of the men knew a great deal of Italian, but wanted to be more comfortable speaking it at random, in different settings, off the cuff.  A great deal more complicated then practicing from a book. We would get plenty of practice doing that.  We had two teachers a day, each for two hour periods.   Day one we learned the alphabet and how to pronounce it.  Who knew that an A is not an A.  A would be Ahhh.  I would be EEEE. It was a wonder I could say anything in Italian. R was erra.  S was esse. We would have worksheets to do, all the while the teacher speaking and teaching in Italian.  If you did not understand something the teacher would look at you and say, do you understand?  The reply and phrase I knew very well the entire time of my studies was Non lo so.  I don’t know.  She then would try to show by writing pictures on the chalkboard or explain it over and over until you got it.  The teachers had the patience of saints and a very good sense of humor. One morning after studying the mercato and all the fruits and vegetables we could buy there, the afternoon teacher came in and in groups of two, the students went to the front of the class to do a skit.  One student was the buyer and one student was the vendor and we bought and sold practicing our hellos and how much do I owe you and everything in between.  It was fun, practical and nerve-wracking all at the same time. This was our routine everyday. With compiti almost every night.  Homework, not a lot.  Just enough to remind you to think about what you learned or would be learning the next day. So the classes consisted of work from a workbook, working with a great deal of extra printed material and speaking either in small groups or in front of the class. And of course answering the questions the teacher asked you, in Italian.  It was challenging, fun, practical and I met several new friends from all over the world and in different levels of education. Many business and governments send their employees to Il Sasso to learn or perfect their Italian skills. The second week all but two students had finished their course and Andy and I moved up to Elementary 1 Level and joined other students.  New teachers, new students and new material to learn.  We learned a great deal, there was no loitering and we moved along at a fast pace.  After the morning classes,  there were options of private tutoring or field trips.   Cooking classes, tours of the historic towns, and walks in the countryside were just some of the many choices to make your stay memorable.  In the evenings the students would meet up at the local restaurants, trattorias, osterias, enotecas and bars, so we became good friends and learned from each other. The third week I had my third set of teachers.  I liked having the rotation. The teachers were fantastic, humorous and very caring.  They wanted you to succeed and have a good time.  It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and keep me studying Italian. To all my Italian classmates and teachers, ciao, ciao!!!

On the next to last evening the class went to Acquacheta to dine.  A small osteria, family owned that specializes in steak served family style. Steak cut to serve.

 

 

The Owner at Acquacheta Preparing the Meat

The Owner at Acquacheta Preparing the Meat

The Owner Showing the Steak for Approval

The Owner Showing the Steak for Approval

The Steak Closeup

The Steak Closeup

If you would like more information about Il Sasso, Scuola di Italiano contact:

http://www.ilsasso.com

Via di Gracciano nel Corso 2

1-53045 Montepulciano, Italy

Facebook:  Il Sasso- Italian Language School

If you would like more information about Osteria “Acquacheta”

http://www.acquacheta.eu

Via del Teatro, 22, Montepulciano, Italy

Montepulciano, the First Day

The Pottery shop

The Pottery Shop

The Handmade Leather Shoe Shop

The Handmade Leather Shoe Shop

My Walk to School

My Walk to School

Cats Are Everywhere!

Cats Are Everywhere!

Walk to School

On Walk to School

On My Walk to School

On My Walk to School

The Town Bus only Stops at the Bottom and the Top

The Town Bus only Stops at the Bottom and the Top

My Favorite House on Hill# 2 #64

My Favorite House on Hill# 2 #64

Not My Walk To School!!!!

Not My Walk To School!!!!

Montepulciano is a hill town in Tuscany in three layers.  There are three hills to walk up.  The first hill is for the tourists, the second hill and plateau is filled with fine craftsmen making pottery, jewelry, mosaics, leather products and woodcarving items all by hand as their ancestors have done for hundreds of years. Dotted between these shops are the clothing shops, great restaurants, wine shops and small grocery stores.  The buildings are huge and people live above the shops. At the end of the second hill is Santa Maria dei Servi Church, one of thirteen Catholic churches in Montepulciano. This is where Politian Palazzo is, on the former grounds of the monastery/church. The crown hill is for the Cathedral, the Fort Museum, the Town Hall, the Duomo Hotel and the Torture Museum. Il Sasso, the Italian Language school, is located between the first and second hill.  I am so glad I don’t have to walk all the way to the bottom of the hill everyday! My first introduction to the school was an evening wine social on the Sunday before school started.  There were forty to fifty students who gathered to have a drink and hors d’oeuvres.  Our hostess was an energetic woman who spoke fast and furious Italian.  Well it sounded like that to me.  The students drifted out to the terrace and I got up the nerve to ask a fellow student if she spoke English.  I think I was in such shock with everyone speaking Italian I must have looked like a deer in the headlights.  What had I gotten myself into? I loved it.  I came home so excited to start school the next day!

The Front Door of Il Sasso, Italian Language School

The Front Door of Il Sasso, Italian Language School

My Favorite House on Hill #3

My Favorite House on Hill #3

Even Cats Go to Mass Here

Even Cats Go to Mass Here

Appetizers

Appetizers

Pear Salad

Pear Salad

Torte

Torte

Dessert

Chocolate Dessert

Montepulciano

The Entrance to the Politian Palazzo

The Entrance to the Politian Palazzo

My apartment right above the Torture Museum Sign!

My Apartment from the Outside

The View from my Apartment

The View from my Apartment

The Casa Right Below my Window, Part of the Fortress Wall

The Casa Right Below my Window, Part of the Fortress Wall

Arrived!!!  Montepulciano is just as I remembered it, only now I am staying at the highest and oldest part of town between the XII century Fortress and the monastery of Santa Maria dei Servi, in the Politian Apartment.  The houses in this part of Via del Poliziano were built in the first half of 1800 on previous settlements belonging to the monastery.  This particular property was bought in 1889 by William Stuart, a British Royal Army Captain and his wife Anna Camp, who left Edinburgh in 1850 and came to live in Tuscany.  They renovated several small houses on the monastery property into a palazzo for the family and servants, including a beautiful garden. The great grandchildren of William Stuart still live in the palazzo and have divided the main building into four large apartments, preserving the original features of the building and adding modern comforts with up to date plumbing and electrical work.  The result is an extraordinary villa that makes you feel like you are living in a palace with a big shower and a fantastic kitchen, difficult things to find in the countryside of Italy.

My Bedroom Ceiling

My Bedroom Ceiling

My Bedroom Fireplace

My Bedroom Fireplace

The Sala and Kitchen

The Sala and Kitchen

The Sala Opennig to the Guardino

The Sala Opening to the Guardino

Looking Out the Sala

Looking Out the Sala

La campagna di Montepulciano

La Campagna di Montepulciano

My Giardino

My Giardino

The Guardino Outside My Door

The Guardino Outside My Door

For the decor Giacomo and Maria (sister/brother hosts) have restored the furniture, paintings, cabinets and armoires taken out of storage.  I asked Giacomo about the furnishings and paintings one day and he told me all the furnishings presently in the house were deemed “too good, we must save them,” by his mother and had been in storage for many many years.  When she passed, Giacomo decided the furnishings had stayed in storage long enough and they would be used. They even found his Great Great Grandmother’s trousseaux, tapestries, bedsteads and hand embroidered linens that had never been used. The tapestries and bedspreads were produced on a hand loom in Prato and some in the convents of Siena and Pienza.  All are made of silk, linen, cotton or hemp.  The embroideries were sown by “woman of the family,” mothers, aunts and grandmothers for the bride.  Every Saturday when Maria and Jane (Jane is Romanian and that is what she is called in English, I can’t begin to pronounce it in Romanian) clean and I do mean clean, Maria asks me to pick my sheets for the week from a selection of great great grandmother’s antique linens that are pure white, pressed and starched.  Unbelievable!!!!

Santa Lucia, Her Eyes are in the Cloth

Santa Lucia, Her Eyes are in the Cloth

The Master Bedroom

The Master Bedroom

The Valley Below Montepulciano

The Valley Below Montepulciano

Nearly all the paintings depict rural landscapes of Tuscany or seasides of Scotland. Except, my favorite painting in the large, large bedroom, that of Santa Lucia, painted in the late sixteenth century by Sienese artist, Domenico Beccafumi.  The ceramic vases in the villa came from local workshops (that continue to make fine pottery) and the garden restoration included re-using all the old bricks and tiles made in the late 1800’ s.  All the tiles on the floor in my apartment are original.  They are a rusty red in color, some are squared and some are brick shaped. Giacomo said the garden bricks are the same bricks as the house floor bricks, just with a glaze and fine polishing added for house-use bricks. The ceilings are fourteen feet tall and the windows are five feet tall, narrowed and shuttered.  To open the window there is a long rod/bolt affair from the top of the window to the bottom of the window. There are no screens and no bugs.  The window casings are marble. There are working fireplaces in every room!  I am sending a picture of the ceiling in my bedroom and will continue more tomorrow. Ciao!

If you are interested in the Politian Apartments, your home away from home contact:

http://www.politian.com

Via del Poliziano 34

Montepulciano Siena, Tuscany

Tel. +39 0578 716624

La Bella Lingua

Taking the Ferry to Menaggio, Italy

Taking the Ferry to Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

The first time I went to Italy I knew I wanted to speak the language.  The Italians were so lively, loud and always in full swing. The language was fast paced and musical.  I loved watching the men and women talk, so after I returned home the search was on to learn Italian.  I love learning and knew I could do a computer course. I could go at my own pace.  I thought about Rosetta Stone.  I did a trial course and although I learned many words I was frustrated that I did not know what I was saying, until several lessons in when it would dawn on me what the pictures were trying to teach me.  There is no English in the course, just pictures that I could interpret several ways. I also didn’t learn how to put the words together into sentences. The program was just random words to me.

I looked up some folks on Slow Travel to see if they had any suggestions for learning the language. One man suggested Fluenz with Sonia Gil and I was off to the races. Fluenz Italian 1, started right in with Sonia, an American, teaching the basics that made sense to an American speaker.  All the words were translated in both languages or you could turn then off altogether. You began day one speaking entire sentences.   Fluenz offered tutorials so you knew why you were learning certain structures and how they added to what you had already learned from the previous lesson.  There were writing skills, reading skills, listening skills, recorded speech practice and pictures too. At the end of each lesson was an Italian tip of something to read or something of interest in the Italian culture.  I loved it and couldn’t wait each day to study. I spoke perfect Italian.  In my living room.

Menaggio, Italy

Menaggio, Italy

Off to Italy I went with two years of Italian under my belt. My husband would say to me, “Now you get ready to speak to them.” That right there put me in a tailspin.  I was at the ferry station buying tickets.  I wanted two tickets to Menaggio on the hydrofoil. The woman behind the counter said something I did not understand. It was rapid Italian with an Italian accent to boot. Sonia was so much easier to understand!  As I looked completely perplexed she asked in English did I want return tickets also?  “Ah, what was the Italian word for that?” I asked her.  She told me and I wrote it down.  I would need that phrase again  and again.  As the vacation went on I realized for the most part I could get the jest of what people were saying.  Still in my mind I had to take in the Italian words, translate them in English then convert them and speak the words back in Italian.  By the time I had thought all that through the Italians were speaking about something else. I did better at the restaurants.  I could order and read the menus.  The young people waiting on the tables realized I was an American, so halfway through my sentence they would interrupt me and speak in English. Was I too slow or were they being helpful and wanted to let me know they spoke English?  I think it was both.  They wanted to practice English as much as I wanted to practice Italian.  Finally, I would tell them, ”No, no let me speak Italian. I am practicing.”  Only one waiter rolled his eyes, so I felt I was on to something. I learned very quickly to size up the people I thought I could speak to.  Trying to talk to busy waiters and the ticket counter personnel with long waiting lines was not the place to practice Italian. The twenty minute bus ride from the mountain down to the harbor in Menaggio was perfect. One bus came all the way to the top twice a day, where we were staying . The bus came by very early in the morning to go down the mountain and there was a return trip up the mountain in the evening.  If we were not up and at it for the early bus we had to walk down the mountain to the next little town and catch the bus there. That was a blessing.  The Italians in the mountain village got up early and walked along the road. They were older and in no hurry, so I would Buon Giorno them all.  It was a start.  At first there wasn’t any eye contact and I would just get the nod. Riding the bus was even better.  We were the only Americans on it and the elderly women who road the bus were nonne. (grandmothers) .  Buon giorno, buon giorno I would say to everyone on that bus. We road that bus for a week before we had the weekend driver who asked us if we had a ticket.  “No, we just paid the driver in euros at the end of the ride.” The driver had been so polite he never told us to go find the ticket office and buy a ticket.  I think we became the novelty for the ride down to Menaggio. The women and the driver got used to us, we showed up every day, no ticket and all.  On one occasion returning to the dock at the end of the day it was raining heavily and we had missed the bus back up the mountain. My husband went into the lake side resort hotel, Hotel D’ Lac, and asked the gentleman behind the counter if he could call a cab. That is another story entirely.  (We weren’t even sure there was cab service. We had never seen a cab.)  A Mercedes station wagon pulled up and was I in luck.  The driver spoke no English! Wow I could really practice speaking with him.  We took his card and called him everyday to come get us at the dock.  Eventually we didn’t even have to call him, he would be waiting at the dock for us.  And all the way up the mountain we talked! Then it dawned on me that the early morning walkers probably didn’t speak English and were just as nervous as I was that we could not communicate. So the next morning I just started a conversation in Italian with everybody on the road and on the morning bus.  Just keep on talking and they would come around.  By the end of our stay the taxi driver told me how much my Italian had improved. I just beamed!

Boats Docked in Menaggio, Italy

Boats Docked in Menaggio, Italy

Now I want to say here another great way I practiced speaking Italian.  One of the first things we noticed going up the mountain were all the different colored trash bins along the tiny road.  One for paper, one for glass, one for trash.  They were everywhere. The bus stop, a little down the mountain where we would walk to, covered three things.  The stop was at the corner of the mountain, beside a set of three trash bins and the hairpin curve.  In order to go up the road further and make the curve you had to go slow, stop your vehicle, inch forward turning your wheels, back up and repeat about 30 times and then you were good to go the rest of the way up to where our apartamento was.  This was why the bus only made two trips a day up to our place. So the rock mountain/trash bin area/bus stop was the meeting place for the locals. While you waited for the bus you read the beautiful obituaries, up-coming marriage banns and local festival plans that were plastered on the face of the rock.  You could also talk with the women who waited in long lines in their small cars bringing trash to the bins.  It was a regular hen peck.  There was no trash picked up at the home they had to haul it to the roadside bins.  Here they greeted their friends, caught up on the news of the day and spent a great deal of time taking care of business. It was their town hall. I could talk to the bin ladies while waiting for the bus. Awesome!  No one was in a hurry and they didn’t speak English.  Perfetto!!!

Now I am ready to make another trip to Italy.  This year I started my third year of Italian with Fluenz.  Right off the bat there was no Sonia.  Now there was an Italian woman speaking like a bat out of hell.  I knew the words, but was convinced she wasn’t saying them. I had to go over Lesson 1 many times, boy did I cuss and complain. I thought I would never get it!!!!  But she sounded just like the Italians speaking. (Fast and just skimming over some of the little words) I plodded on.  Eventually my ear was trained to their language.  I am slowly not hearing Italian words, translating the words to English and then translating back. I am hearing the spoken Italian. So I decided to jump in the deep end of the pool.  I will be attending a language school in Montepulciano, Tuscany. (Il Sasso) for almost a month.

No English. Italian only, complete immersion. It is a small town with locals, who don’t speak English. I have been there on vacation so I know the area. It’s really laid back. The administrator has answered a truck load of questions from me. She suggested lodging, was helpful with train schedules and found Verio Neri from the Cucina Povera cookbook for me. (earlier post about that) The students who have attended the school have raved about it. Bring it on. I am ready.

For more information look up Fluenz Learning Languages, I just think it is THE best! and………..the school
Scuola di Italiano il Sasso, Montepulciano Italy (a Tuscany hill town)
internet: http://www.ilsasso.com or Facebook: Il Sasso Italian Language School

The apartamento near Menaggio, Italy, Apartment Le Eriche, Villa per Barna, Plesio, Italy. It is Italian owned and our neighbors were Italian. They own a B&B also, but we stayed in the private apartment!

Il Negozio di Alimentari (Grocery Store)

Sant Antonio, Montepulciano

Sant Antonio, Montepulciano

I was on the plane from DC to Zurich. At the beginning of the flight the seat next to me was empty for a while, then the stewardess directed a young man to the seat.  He proceeded to strip.  One layer of shirts after another, six layers in all.  He folded everything precisely and placed them in a Disneyland plastic sack. As he sat down he added that he was wearing several layers of pants too.  We got to talking.  The young man from Switzerland had been in the US on a student exchange and work program. But, he also had been shopping.  In Wal-Mart.  He told me he had never seen anything like it.  So much to choose from, so cheap. When he was not working he was at Wal-Mart shopping. He had bought gifts for all his friends and perfume for his mother.

On the train from Switzerland to Italy a young couple boarded the train struggling  with huge suitcases almost bigger than they were. I struck up a conversation with the shy young woman from Indonesia while my husband talked with her husband.
“Have you been to the US,”  I asked.  Yes, her husband had studied there.
I eventually got around to, “What did you like best about the US?”
“Shopping in Wal-Mart, my husband would drop me off and I would spend the entire day there.”  Her eyes lit up as she talked about her shopping experiences.

Shopping in Wal-Mart.  I heard it over and over. Visitors to the US loved walking down all the aisles, looking at all the merchandise.  The Wal-Mart that had the grocery store included was a special treat for them. Double delight.

Shopping in Montepulciano

Shopping in Montepulciano The grocery is to the right with red letters on the building

I know what they mean.  My first grocery shopping experience  in Italy was a highlight for me. We arrived at the monastery outside  Montepulciano on a Saturday night and at the welcome/introduction were told the grocery shops were closed on Sunday in Italy.  After the welcome the guests made a beeline to their cars and the grocery store on the outskirts of Montepulciano.  We had to wait a while to get a parking spot.  It wasn’t really a parking lot just a pull in.  Cars were parked  at the front doors of the shop like someone had just dropped someone off so they could run in.  Except no one was waiting in the car.  Finally we followed other cars to the church lot on the corner and squeezed the car into the piggly wiggly parking spaces. There was no rhyme or reason to the parking.  It looked like the cars had just stopped and parked.  It didn’t matter if you were blocking cars or if the backend of the car blocked the road.  Total chaos. It was exciting!  We walked down the hill and into the store that looked on the outside like any grocery store in the US only smaller.   There were not many carts and the store was crowded with shoppers.  In order to get a cart you put a euro into the box on the cart to release it from the line.  The aisles were tiny with just enough room for the cart to pass.  As we zipped around the store I tried to figure out what the items were by looking at the pictures on the labels.  I found peanut butter next to the Nutella.  Was Nutella peanut butter?  There was lots of that. We got to the vegetables and fruit. I’ve learned to watch before I leap.  The women placed plastic gloves on before touching the fruit or vegetables. I followed suit. There was a counter with meats and cheeses that I just pointed to as I made my selections. The store closed at six, hurry hurry. There was an aisle of t-shirts, shoes, mops and brooms. At the check out the woman gestured, did we have a bag for the groceries?  No? Plastic disposable bags  were dispensed, with a fee of one euro.  A deep breath and out the door we went. What did we buy?  It was all such a blur to hurry up and shop.

Uptown Menaggio

Uptown Menaggio

Another time arriving in Menaggio,  late on Saturday afternoon, we walked up the hill from the boat dock.  On the corner was an old building with a grand stone stair entry that faced two sides of the street.  It was the local grocery complete with so many sticker advertisements on the windows one could not see in or out.  While I stayed at the bottom of the stairs with the luggage my husband hiked up the stairs and into the shop.  I waited and waited and waited.  Finally he came out with two cans of coke, Pringle looking chips and candy bars.  What?  “You will not believe that store, it is one way with yellow tape arrows on the floor to direct you through the aisle. I had to go around twice to find this stuff,”  my harried husband revealed. I would get my chance to see the grocery later in the week.

On my visit to the store I found items from the floor to the ceiling.  How you reached the items on the top of the shelves was beyond me.  Everything was jumbled together so I had to go slow and look at it all. There was a vegetable and fruit section with a young woman there to provide you with the plastic gloves.  I had to go around the store three times to find my items, each time passing the cashier, leaving my items, and then going out and in again.  If there was someone behind me with a cart they had to go at my pace because the aisle wasn’t big enough to pass. The store had everything, I just had to really look for it.  Again I paid for my plastic sack.  One thing you didn’t have to worry about was parking.  There wasn’t any. No one would take out a grocery cart. You had to go up and down many steps to get in or out. There wouldn’t be  weekly shopping, too much to lug home at once.  Daily shopping, walk to get there, bring your sack.  I also did not notice any new cars.  The small cars had scrapes, scratches and dents on them. The buildings had swatches of color  on their walls that matched the  colors of the cars. Nobody got too bent out of shape over parking here. Just stop the car and get out.

Shopping in small towns

Shopping in small towns

Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 656Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 679In the smaller villages of Italy the grocery shopping is more defined.  A different shop for selected items.  The wine store, the cheese shop, the butcher, the baker.  I didn’t find a candlestick maker.  These shops tend to be very small and full! Everyone knows everyone. I had a great time.  Enjoy the pictures of the shops in Italy!

War in Val D’ Orcia

The Road to La Foce

The Road to La Foce

This will be my last review of books I read as part of the Travel Prep for Italy.  In 2009 my husband and I spent a week in a monastery outside of Montepulciano.  Surrounded by olive groves and grape vines this was our home base as we discovered the hill towns of Tuscany. It was ideal and everyday we jumped up and were ready to explore. At night we returned to visit with the other guests and compare notes over dinner.  Driving in Italy can be very hectic, the Italians I am sure get tired of the slow pokey tourist moving as slow as a snail so they can see everything.  One of the highlights of the week was our day trip to La Foce.  La Foce, bought in 1924, is a large estate with a sixteenth century farmhouse,  and the home of Iris Origo, an American, who with her Italian husband, Antonio, restored the  baked barren olive green landscape, neglected by soil erosion and wars between the Italian states, back to life. Fifteen years of hard work produced one central fattoria (farm), where the Origo family lived surrounded by fifty farms of one hundred acres each with each farmer sharing all produce with the owner,  but depending on the owner for a home, equipment and capital.  This was the mezzadria system of farming similar to sharecropping in the United States. Here Antonio Origo introduced modern farming techniques and managed the estate while Iris (the Marchesa) set up a school for the children and adults (eighty percent illiterate) and a hospital for their growing farmstead, eventually six thousand people in all. Then came World War II.

La Foce

La Foce

The Gardens of La Foce

The Gardens of La Foce

La Foce

La Foce

Gardens of La Foce

Gardens of La Foce

War in Val D’ Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943 -1944 written by Iris Origo is the story of La Foce and its inhabitants during the war and the build up to it.  It describes their life under the fascist administration of Benito Mussolini, who came into power in 1922, their move to La Foce and then their everyday life during the war,  trying to survive.  I think the most important fact for me was that Iris decided not to edit any of the pages she had written when the book was published, in 1948. Her papers were originally written  as a personal journal during her pregnancy, as a pastime, in the middle of domestic isolation and boredom. When the war came to the Val D’ Orcia, her writings became a way to concentrate and clear her mind by writing each days events as she had heard or witnessed them first hand. She left it as it was written, sometimes in scribbles, sometimes lengthy, written in the cellar, or in her children’s nursery, hiding the papers among the children’s books because she didn’t think anyone would look there and eventually burying her diary in the garden. Good or bad they did what they thought at the time was the right thing to do. Coulda, woulda, shoulda times and more.  Sometimes those decisions turned out for the best and sometimes not. She tells it all.

The road we took to La Foce was a two lane paved highway, surrounded by plowed olive green fields ( I have never seen a field that color before or since) bordered by the tall skinny plane trees, that everyone thinks of when they think of Italy. We zigged-zagged down that road and on the crossroads found La Foce,  a bright yellow cheery pallazzo, surrounded by beautiful gardens and a  pool flanked with lemon trees in big terra cotta pots.  We took the tour with an English speaking guide, walking through the gardens and learning about Iris Origo’s  garden design, statuary and the choice of flower variety for her garden. The estate was so beautiful, restful  and peaceful. During the tour, the guide mentioned that the marchesa had written several books. I looked them up when I returned home and was pleasantly surprised that one of her books, the War in Val D’ Orcia, was written in English. So I read the book after returning to the United States. Little did I realize, before reading the book, that the beautiful home of La Foce  and the families that lived there had seen so much hardship.

The Dirt Road

The Dirt Road

When we left La Foce, I thought I would give the Italians a break from driving an inch from my rear bumper and then speeding around me on the curves.  We took a dirt road.  I don’t think I ever saw a marking for any road except upon leaving the  North-South  A-1 corridor to and from Rome.  After you got off the A-1 you were on your own. Even with GPS in the car it was nearly a day before I realized that the beautiful sounding Italian voice was actually speaking English. English with a very heavy Italian brogue. Seena? Does  she mean the turn off for SI EN NA is this one?  See what I mean?  She pronounced cities that I was sure were not even on my map.  Anyway, the dirt road seemed like a good choice at the time and we were not that far from Montepulciano.  How bad could it be?  The juts in the narrow dirt road seemed to get deeper and deeper and larger and larger.  Sometimes I had to come to a complete stop and creep across them, the rental car bottoming out.  In the middle of nowhere we came to four or five houses and an old castle.  There was even one streetlight.  Who lived out here?  We stopped to look and to give the car a break.  When we started up again that dirt road seemed to go on and on. It was getting dark when we pulled into a farm lot.  The road had ended.  There were clothes hanging on the line and a tied up barking dog going crazy with our arrival.  The farmer (plaid shirt and everything)  came out in total disbelief that we were in his barnyard. Loudly in case we were deaf, but in rapid Italian and gestures he told me in no uncertain terms to turn around and go back.  I did.  We finally did find our way back to Montepulciano, but I want to find that road on my trip this time, because now I know after reading the book what it was.

Leading Up to the Castle

Leading Up to the Castle

I never thought of soldiers from many countries being prisoners of war in Italy. There were seventy thousand of them. Early in the war the Fascists in compliance with the Germans informed the Origos that their home would be used to house the P.O.W.s.  A high ranking official came to look the place  over and decided he would be more comfortable at the castle up the hill.  The Origo family and their tenants would be in charge of feeding them, and caring for them. The peasants kept them alive and helped them escape. General O’ Connor wrote after the war, “ I can only say the Italian peasants and others behind the lines were magnificent.  They could not have done more for us.  They hid us, escorted us, gave us money, clothes and food – all the time taking tremendous risks.  Without their help it would have been impossible for us to live and finally escape.”

Iris had the hospital, meager supplies and the only nurse. This is not to say she helped only the Allied forces, but also young Italians, who took up arms against the regime and joined partisan groups, (she hid them in her forest, fed them and reported movements of troops from either side). She also cared for wounded German soldiers stranded from their units.  Yes, she tells all about that castle and what went on there.

When Genoa and Turin were bombed and seeing heavy fighting the city dwellers begged  those people who lived in the country to take in their children.  The children would be safe, in the middle of Italy, so far away from the fighting, or so they thought.  La Foce  and Iris Origo took twenty-six children in, in addition to the two she had of her own by then. Eventually, when the American forces landed near Rome and moved north, the war came to her doorstep literally. As the war raged close to  La Foce, she walked the children to safety in the hill town of  Montepulciano, as the shelling went on all around them. The children were tied together so they would not get lost, and many of the children so accustomed to the bombing and planes thought they were playing a new game. After the war many men, from different countries, wrote her and told her they had survived the war thanks to her kindness.  I am sure the children, who for the most part were re-united with their families felt the same way.  There is a great deal to be learned of strength, determination and courage from Iris Origo.  She shares her life, simple acts of everyday life during a war, with the hope of human kindness. Her book is a must read.

P S   I hope I find that farmer too.  I have studied Italian for two years and will be learning more in Montepulciano.  Maybe we can discuss the weather!

The converted monastery  we stayed in was:  Sant’ Antonio/The Country Resort, Via della Montagna 6/8, Montepulciano, Italy.  Web site:  http://www.santantonio.it

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