(Re)Living The Italian Life

Last night I went to Tuscany. San Gimignano to be precise. Oh, the food, the wine….

Yeah, okay, so I didn’t really go there. Well, not on an aeroplane in actual person. What do you think I am, a movie star?

I did, however, buy a bottle of Vernaccia di San Gimignano and make homemade ravioli. And I listened to Italian music while I wrestled with the pasta machine. (There may or may not have also been some choice Italian swear words in action.)

“Why??”

I knew you were busting to ask that.

Two lovely friends are currently living the Tuscan life on the trip of a lifetime in Italy. They’ve been posting photos and stories on Facebook and I’ve been reminiscing.

Yes, we did once fair dinkum go to San Gimignano.

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On a seven-week European odyssey with three small boys in tow (ages 11, 8 and 5), we had wisely booked a week in a small Tuscan town at about the halfway point. We didn’t know it was wise at the time. The wisdom only became apparent when we got there after our previous stop in Nice included the line “I’m over it! I want to go home!” That was me. As chief travel agent, tour guide, purchaser, cook, washer and seemingly font of all travel wisdom, the pressure was building. The opportunity to stop and breathe in one place for a week brought sanity back to us all.

Sometimes the significant travel memories that stay with you are not about awe-inspiring art or impressive structures or spectacular landscapes. Sometimes they are about living the life, feeling a part of a community of which you are a part for just a tiny moment. That was Certaldo for us. I’d managed to book a three bedroom apartment in a former 13th century palace with a tower where you could sit and see the towers of San Gimignano in the distance for only AU$800 a week.

Of course, first impressions count when you travel and the fact that we arrived on the weekend of their annual food and wine festival may have had some impact on our positive experiences. We didn’t know it was on when we booked. Another of those serendipitous moments that make a holiday special.

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Boccaccesca Wine and Food Festival, Certaldo Alto

It was like it was all meant to be.

We relaxed, shopped at the market, read books, ate a lot of good Italian bread and cheese and made day trip forays into neighbouring tourist centres such as Sienna and San Gimignano. We didn’t have a car so these were accessed by public transport. There’s nothing quite like squeezing onto a crowded local bus to make you feel a part of the community.

It was a favourite moment in our holiday and I can’t help thinking that its impact was greater because it came at just the right time. We headed off after our week-long stay with renewed energy and patience.

I’d love to go back but I suspect that it wouldn’t be the same.

In the meantime, I’ll find the odd bottle of Tuscan wine in the local Dan Murphy’s, drag out the pasta machine and relive la dolce vita at home.

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Certaldo Alto, Tuscany

 

 

 

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Just Enough To Wet Your Tongue – An Early Wine Education

“Just take enough to wet your tongue,” my father said.

“How big is your tongue?” my mother quipped.

Sunday lunch. A bottle of wine. And our wine education proceeded.

In my reflection on my father last week, I mentioned his late-in-life introduction to wine and the subsequent passionate interest he passed on to his children. It was interesting to note that each of his children mentioned wine in their reflections in the booklet of eulogies put together for his funeral. (Dad refused to have any family eulogies, stating that only the minister was to speak. He’d been to too many funerals where “every man and his dog” had to say something. Of course, we found a way around the rules. He taught us well.)

It seems to me that if I were to write a memoir, for a start it would be short and mostly boring, but it would undoubtedly be dominated by stories of wine.

My brother in his highchair with a liqueur glass of watered-down riesling. We graduated from liqueur glasses, to sherry glasses, to normal wine glasses as we got older.

Visiting a winery, the busload of tourists that came pouring in and the woman who asked, “Do you have any spumante?” I scoffed and did not hide my disdain. I was ten.

The cellar under our house that my father built himself with hand tools. The home-bottling that went on in there and the stacks of bottles with the hand-drawn label.

My favourite wine story, however, is the one most indicative of my father and is also linked to one of the greatest gifts my father gave me.

My parents took my younger brother and me to Europe for 10 weeks when we were 9 and 12 years old respectively. It was what started my love affair with travel. When I was asked to choose a symbol to place on my father’s coffin at his funeral to represent who he was to me, I chose my passport from this trip. Travel has become a major part of my life and it is an opportunity and love I have passed on to my children. They have travelled because I have travelled because my father took me travelling.

But what about the wine?

I’m getting to that.

On this trip, my father had arranged a private tasting at the Pieroth Winery near Bingen am Rhein in Germany. While my parents tasted wines, my brother and I drank fruit nectar (three whole bottles) and ate Ryvita crackers (or whatever the German equivalent was then).

It was growing dark by the time we finished. (It wasn’t that big a session – we always travelled out of season so this was in late October.) The winemaker offered to call us a taxi but my father refused declaring that it was close enough to walk. Just around the corner really.

Off we set along the side of the autobarn with no path, no streetlights and the sky turning darker by the minute. As we stumbled along and the familial air grew increasingly tense, my mother began to make noises about a taxi being a good idea. My father continued to insist that it was just around the corner.

After several kilometres, Dad at last conceded that it was further than he had anticipated. Approaching the first house we could find with lighted windows, he knocked on the door and in his best non-existent German, asked to call for a taxi.

The taxi soon arrived, we piled in and the car took off like a rocket, throwing us all against the back of the seat.

Around the corner and up the street and we arrived at our destination.

It really was “just around the corner”. We just had to get to the right corner.

(Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge – Memoir Madness)

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From the Pieroth website. Non-existent when we went there. All communication to set up the tasting was done by snail mail.

 

 

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