All in the Famiglia

“This is a crazie family” Davide, our hard working host, jokes as his tiny poodle runs amok barking like a windup toy on steroids.

Agriturismo Savernano is our comfortable base for day-tripping throughout Tuscany. We have returned again to this highly-praised working farm for our fifth season (reviewed here in previous blog posts).  At this point, we aren’t observing extended family life near rural Chianti, we are a part of it! Homey touches include Eva (mom and cook) doing homework with the kids around the fire in ‘jammies; TV tuned to political discussions during dinner, passionate laughter, yelling from the kitchen that food was ready, and the presence of both sets of grandparents who energetically contribute to the collective enterprise.

We settled into our ample, spotless Camera #5 with hand-hewn wood beam and brick tile ceiling, overlooking the vineyards and the hills south of Firenze. Our comforts on the road are measured in modest pleasures that are abundant here: lots of hot water, room to lay out our stuff, and time to spin some cycles at the local coin-op lavenderia.

Eva’s home style cooking and Davide’s 2009 Chianti de la Casa further encouraged us to chill amid a familiar routine. We chowed down on pastas with meat sauce, veal with mushrooms and cream, wild erbe di campo (field greens) gathered by Grandma.

Davide is at heart a relentless builder. This year he and his ever-cheerful father have taken on the ambitious projects of building an all-weather road twisting up to Savernano, and a major expansion of his underground wine storage facilities. We got to see the daily product of his fatto a mano labors, such as vaulted ceilings spanning the cantine. If you’ve ever wondered how cathedrals were made, those great and dedicated builders are running humble rural guest houses!

We set out each day to relish the familiar, and explore new Tuscan destinations:

Firenze (Florence): We dedicated 2 alternating days, commuting 25 minutes via treno to Stazione Santa Maria Novella in the heart of Firenze. Florence has everything we love about Italy condensed into a gracious and “walkable” city: living history and culture from Rome to Mussolini; art (Michelangelo’s David is here) and architecture (virtually every building is a photo op for me); grand churches and cathedrals (the central Duomo’s structural style continually reflects boundless grandeur, as light and weather shift); chic shop windows; value shopping at entertaining tented stalls; impressive formal gardens; and the Fiume Arno (river) that partitions the town with a shimmering green flow.

Our first destination from the train station is what we call the “Valley of the Stalls” – a breathtaking canyon of covered stands–that is, if you share our enthusiasm for good-natured interaction with the sellers, rewarding inexpensive discoveries, and a spirit for adventurous bargaining.

To our delight, we reunited with Ramon, Lisa’s personal scarf stylist supreme, who we encountered last year. Ramon is dedicated to selecting, modeling, instructing, complimenting and satisfying every taste in Italy’s de rigueur scarf culture (for men as well, reluctant readers). He presents each textile showcased as a veiled treasure – identified by design derivation, fabric, and most complementary to skin tone. Ramon also creatively fastens each fabric to frame the countenance and mood of the wearer. Half an hour at his open market salon is worth its weight in the dopamine rush that follows.

Lucca: Our first visit to this walled town, home of composer Giacomo Puccini, was, well… a touch operatic. As we entered the city, a mysterious “dirty rain” began to fall. We ducked in for caffe latte molto caldo and saw a man vigorously wiping down his mud splattered parka with a napkin. Then we noticed the streets were muddy, and all the cars were spackled with the same grime. We taxed our imagination — what was this Biblical plague? When we asked Davide that evening, he laughed and said that every 2 years or so sandstorms from North Africa mix with the wet weather patterns in Italy to produce this gritty phenomenon.

Amongst the wet slurry, Lucca also revealed a serious food community with mercati offering esoteric grains and legumes, baked goods, and vini; a hip musical concert scene; cafés and osteria arranged around the central piazzas named Turandot, La Boheme, and Madame Butterfly.

Siena and Greve-in-Chianti – We accessed the vineyards and hill communities west of Savernano via serpentine roads that present some of the most pastoral vistas we have seen in all of Italy. Sporting through these rustic lanes in our Panda, we pass colorful cyclists pedaling in the slick surfaced valleys, took “suicide” photos out the window as we spotted countless Kodachrome vignettes, and navigated our way to stylish Siena guided by enigmatic signposts with negligible damage to our wedded union.

I won’t burden you with an elaborate description of Siena, other than to say the clouds and drizzle in the empty centre plazas evoked the medieval disposition of this sophisticated town, and oh…it’s beautiful!

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One Response to All in the Famiglia

  1. Meta Mehling says:

    Hi Howard.
    Your blog and photos did definitely brighten my day and will be with me through the week. I just love the way you bring Italy home to me. It is truely like I am there trying on scarves with Lisa…and convincing her to try on those Ferrragomos., and of course enjoying the relationships with your host families. Notable remarks that I will take with me this week…scarf stylist supreme, dopamine rush ….kodachrome vignettes…Thank you for sharing your in the moment joy and vision. I tried the comment feature on about six photos. Let me know if it worked. Meta

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