(part 2 of Dreams Gifts & Memories )
As I step from my room, I realize the warm sun streaming in my window this morning had deceived me. My fair Irish skin is totally unprepared for the icy dampness of a Florentine winter. Emergency wardrobe modifications are in order. I layer the following: leggings, blue jeans, camisole, shirt, wool turtle neck, sweater, fleece, windbreaker, and a jacket. It’s possible I’ve overdone it… just a little!!
Arriving in town, I head straight for The Academia to visit my one true love: “Michelangelo’s David“. He’s the quintessential male. Heroic, sensitive, committed to his work, with chiseled features, and flawless assets! If David were alive today, I imagine him having a superior wit, a love of cooking, an appreciation of art & music, and treasuring long Sunday afternoon walks. Is that too much to ask??
After two glorious hours adoring my David, I meet with Issam and the Maltese couples. From the moment I enter the van, I have a feeling that this will be an amusing afternoon and evening.
After 40 minutes we are in the Chianti region. The tour of Fattoria Casa Sola , one of Chianti’s premier producers of both wine and olive oil, begins with a walk around the charming property.
Once inside, we make our way to the lower level where we sit at the communal Tuscan table and begin the tasting portion of our tour. To my left sits Martina, on my right her husband Giuseppe. I’m charmed, captivated and annoyed by Giuseppe. He and Martina have been married for 40+ years. He is a reluctant participant on this and all tours. A glass of wine is his ultimate reward.
Our winery guide is a professional, and fortunatly well versed in dealing with difficult husbands. Giuseppe is not interested in discussing character, complexity, the legs or nose of the wine, he’s interested in drinking it. The generous tasting before him has done little to satisfy his voracious Maltese palate. He continually leans forward in an attempt to get his wife’s attention. She ignores him, but to no avail. He wants her to ask the winery guide to top-up his glass. Martina reaches past me and empties her glass into his. I ask if she would like to switch places with me. She replies: “Good God NO!” He turns to me, smiles and shrugs, then with a tip of his now empty glass, asks me if I plan on finishing mine. As our accomplished guide describes each of the 5 wines in mouth-watering detail, Giuseppe sits impatiently fidgeting in his chair, muttering: “Ya-ya-ya. Ya-ya-ya. I get it. It’s wine. It’s good. Just let me drink the damn thing already!”
After the wine portion, our olive oil tasting experience begins. The guide, describing its slight peppery taste, urges us to sample the full flavour of the olive oil first, before dipping our bread in it. Giuseppe turns to me and says with conviction, “I’m not tasting this without bread!” Martina leans across me to slap Giuseppe’s hand as he helps himself to the bread on my plate. Each time one of them interacts with the other, they lean into me, throwing both my chair and me off-balance. I suspect this would be what it’s like growing up in a boisterous Maltese family.
We make our way to Siena, indulging in the best hot chocolate I’ve everhad in my life at La Birreria. Exquisite dark chocolate in a cup melted together with a splash of rich cream. It’s appropriately served with a spoon.
We sit under the patio heaters, and watch the sun set on Piazza del Campo. I’m one of those rare women who have little appreciation for chocolate! Tonight however, I would willingly sell my soul to the Chocolate Gods, one scrumptious spoonful at a time. Giuseppe sits contentedly across from me. Licking chocolate from his mouth with two empty cups before him, he’s finished his own, and his wife’s. I wrap a protective hand around my cup as he playfully eyes my new obsession.
We make our way to San Gimignano, the famous walled city near Siena. Peaceful streets and the silvery moonlight reflecting off the 14 dignified towers add to the romance of this unique medieval fortress built on the crest of a hill.
After dinner, Issam surprises me with dessert and birthday candles in celebration of my day.
Despite the crisp January evening, we move our party of seven outside to experience world-famous Italian gelato, at Gelateria di Piazza. This tasty gelato stirs faded memories of hot summer evenings sitting on my grandmother’s porch enjoying a scoop of her homemade ice cream. Even in the dead of winter, the velvety gelato never fails to delight the senses. Giuseppe refuses to eat gelato in January. He scowls, shakes his head, turns, and walks toward the 13th century well in the center of Piazza della Cisterna. From his pocket he pulls a coin and casually tosses it in the wishing well. I can only imagine what he’s wishing for.
Our final stop on this seven hour tour is Piazzale Michaelangelo. The view of Florence from this square is panoramic and picturesque even at this late hour. Giuseppe remains in the comfort of the van. He has seen enough for one day, and furthermore, they don’t serve refreshments here.
Issam chauffeurs the two couples to their hotel in the center of Florence. We stand in front of the entrance and reminisce about our flawless day. Giuseppe leans over and whispers three pearls of wisdom in my ear: “#1-Enjoy your life. #2-Don’t let it slip by unnoticed. #3-Watch out for Italian men!!”
He winks and squeezes my shoulder with affection… I smile and secretly acknowledge, it’s often the thorn that makes us appreciate the beauty of a rose. Goodnight and thank you to my new life-coach the ever prickly Giuseppe.