I couldn't understand the mystique. Yeah, its a wine and olive growing region — but so's the Napa Valley, and that's just, well, really expensive; has too much traffic and too much money floating thru its streets. But this caption, which I spotted on a magazine in the villa, pretty much sums up Tuscany.
Its part style, part quality of life. Its intensely relaxing. Life moves slower here. The days are hot, the nights are cool (mostly). There are nine of us, some briefly strangers to Kathy and I, and we to them, now friends as if from old. We're sharing a century-old villa, surrounded by 13 acres of grape and oil fields. It's not bad.
How'd this come about? Jane Bauch of our "Texas Contingent" was to celebrate a "significant" birthday (which she did, amongst great fanfare). To celebrate, her husband Tom and she decided to rent a villa and invite a bunch of friends: me (Scott), Kathy, Paul, Linda, Charlie, Nancy, Marion. The "new kids" (for Kathy and I) are Paul and Linda; they're old friends of the Bauchs and new friends of ours. They live in West Newbury, MA — half an hour from us. Who knew? Paul and Linda are delightful and quirky in their own ways, I think we get along smashingly, but I suspect few don't — they're just "go with the flow" folks.
We converged on Sienna from a couple of directions. The Texas contingent (the Bauchs, the Stuarts) left from Dallas to Chicago, to Rome to Florence, and drove. The Aganski's flew from Boston to Chicago and met them there. Kathy and I flew from Boston directly to Milan, Milan to Florence, bus to Sienna — where we were met by all before heading to the villa. Charlie and Nancy Stuart arrived the next day with a 2nd rental car — which ended up self-destructing (transmission) and getting replaced the 2nd to last day.
We're near (but not as near as it looks) "Quercegrossa" ("kwer-keh-Gross-ah"), in the Tuscan region of Italy. The closest city is Sienna, the closest big city (this is relative) is Florence. We've spent time in both cities. Our home for the week is this fabulous ancient villa, modernized with a very decent kitchen and a swimming pool.
The villa has countless rooms; at least 6 bedrooms, a sitting room with a massive fireplace, a formal dining room, kitchen, entranceway, 5 baths (one with Jacuzzi), a huge porch, swimming pool, garden, pool house (with shower/bath), oh and a vineyard and winery. Tom'd found it at www.italianvillas.com.
Tuscany... does not seem to be about activity, at least in the "let's go do X now!" sense. We quickly fell into the Tuscan way of life. Lengthy interactions over lengthy meals; sleeping; chatting and fooling around at poolside. We can see why Tuscans live longer than Americans, on average.
Food figures prominently in our days. Our first day we spent about $200 at the grocery store ("That's not bad, that'll cover two days"). Pounds of cheese. Salami. Olives. Cantatucci (a type of what Americans call biscotti, but here biscotti refers to any kind of cracker or cookie, from a humble saltine upwards). Prosciutto. And Chianti wine. Lots of Chianti. I (Scott) prepared a lot of the food, with lots of help from everybody else; prep and menu advice and cleaning and arranging the food — even when the meal's simple, it's a fair effort when its for nine people each time. Charlie (Stuart) did a couple of the breakfasts; he's a great cook. By the way, the photo at right looks like it came from a food magazine or something, actually it's Charlie's creation and Scott's photo.
We went through an entire litre of olive oil in the course of the week. I lost count of the number of eggs (4-6 dozen, as a guess), pounds of cheese, salami, veal, tomatoes; fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden.
We spent a bit more time "out and about" than I'd planned for; I wasn't expecting to be touring quite as often as we did. The last full day Kathy and I hung out at the villa, while most of the others went back into Florence to hit a key museum we couldn't visit during the day we were there. The silence was golden.
That David. He's such a nice boy. Big feet. Small, well, let's not go there. Every muscle just right. I hate that.
We spent the day in Florence. To walk down the cobblestone streets, drink overpriced cappuccino in the cafes... it was a typical European city. But the artwork, and nobody'd ever accuse me of being an art critic, was astounding. The David you see at left towering over Kathy is actually a duplicate; the real thing is in a rather serene museum along with others of Michelangelo's works, finished and unfinished — but, no photographs there.