Wednesday, November 05, 2014



The writer in typical pose

Arrived  Wednesday, September 3, 2014:  

We stay at a lovely villa named "La Citerna" (cistern) owned by our friend John, who unfortunately was unable to be with us this year.  With this as a base we travel around Tuscany and the Chianti country, and sometimes take trips before and after our villa stay.  This year's journal describes our trip to the Isle of Elba, Firenze and Roma; my companion was my college roommate Blake and, for part of the journey, Mark and Louisa and Alex and Bebe.

Thursday, September 4Adagios by Albioni are playing in the background.  The soft morning sun falling on the Tuscan hills, the towers of San Gimignano in the distance.  We arrived at 6:30 last night after a two hour delay on ground at Dulles because of thunderstorms.  Although we made our connecting flight in Amsterdam, our luggage did not, arriving 4-1/2 hours later necessitating our returning to Aerporto in our car rental to wait before venturing forth to La Citerna.  I accomplished a goal by calling the housekeeper and explaining in Italiano that we would not meet her at 3 as planned but at 6 p.m.
Last night, we ate dinner nearby at Lucarno, C’era  una volta (An age, a time).  A nice trattoria – excellent vegetable mix and spinach ravioli.  However even before dinner with all our travelling travails we were able to sit and look at the afternoon sun on the Tuscan Hills.  We slept soundly.
Tyrrhean  Sea from Rendevous
Thursday, September 4 (cont'd): Grueling ride to the FiPiLo (interstate-like-road that runs from Florence/Pisa/Locarno) and south to Piombino.  Missed ferry  by 5 minutes. Finally arrived in Elba around 3:30 .  Parking at our hotel involves driving onto an entryway that looks like a 10-ft-wide concrete walkway with 90 degree angles and a series of gates.  We made it though.  Then, after getting our bearings, we drove to Marciana Mare located on the opposite side of the island.  Many hairpin turns on way to town but dinner at Rendezvous Restaurant overlooked the sea.  We had zuppa di mare which turned out to be prawns, clams, mussels and tomato sauce.  Good but very messy. 

Friday, September 5:  Today was dedicated to Napoleon:  Visited his humble abodes,  the Imperial Palace set on a cliff between two forts – the Villa di Mulini based on Josephine's Malmaison in Paris -- and the country manor -- San Martino   Both were interesting and fun. All this, and yet Napoleon stayed only about 10 months before escaping back to the mainland and reentering France to make trouble.  Thus, the next exile was to St. Helena's in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where he died. 

A trip to the beach at Lacuna turned out to lack the pizzeria we were seeking so we returned to Portoferrario and the corner pizzeria – pretty good pizzas with anchovies, cheese and artichokes. 

Imperial Palace
Tonight  we dined at Entoteca di Forrezzi ..  It was a wine bar inside the fort.  The pasta was bluefish, which was pretty good and a prima piatti of cod.    We also had a Vermentino wine – white, dry, vino verde-ish, apparently from Sardinia, Corsica and Piedmonte regions.  Nice evening within the walls of the Medici Fort.    We enjoyed gelato from a stand on the way home.  I got ananas (pineapple) con ginger. 

Note the touching of side mirrors:  car on L. is ours
View from the Forrezzi
Saturday, September 6:  We had to line up at the ferry at 12:15.  Thus,  after going to bancomat, I went to the archeology museum hoping to see ruins of Roman villa.  The museum was not within the fort but at the end of the island.  However, I did not find the ruins although I saw many amphorae, jars, anchors, etc. that have been discovered underwater.  I also walked to the round house which had presumably been part of ruins was "non accesso" – as an Italian visitor stated.  Getting the car on and off the ferry which was very crowded today on Saturday was harrowing -- see photo.
Arriving at the villa at 5 p.m. our friends were waiting.  We went again to C’era e una volta, and I had eggplant with meat, which was very delicious.  Blake and Bebe had too-salty guinea fowl.  Much (too much) white wine but nice fried bay leaves.

Sunday, September 7: 
Chianti Gallo
Early in the morning,  I walked up our road to the church which was still empty when I arrived.  The group went for a mid-day lunch at La Cantinetta di Rignana, outside Greve.  I got tagliatelle a cinghale.  We had fabulous hors d’oeuvres of bruschetta with pate and  tomatoes and  a delicious meat comprised of several meats – soprasatto (sort of a head cheese); also pickled onions, artichokes, cheeses, honey.  (PS later: This was definitely one of the very best meals on the whole trip.)
That night we went again to C'era e una volti and had spaghetti alle cingale with a nice marinara sauce.
Monday, September 8:  We decided to go to Chianti Country -- Castilliani, a lovely little medieval fort and village where Alec and Bebe bought a painting.
I walked out of the town to Tomba di Monte Calvaro, an Etruscan tomb
Entrance to Etruscan Tomb
dating back to 6-7th century BC.  It was a mound with four entry points at north, south east and west – some small rooms, some larger, all off a central hallway.  It was discovered in the early 1800s and excavation begun in early 1900s (about 1915).  

We were trying in vain  to find a certain restaurant near Greve so we decided to eat in Greve at a trattoria.  I had  a mixture of verdure – eggplant, tomatoes, and pepper in olive oil.  Others had bread salad, which looked good and Bebe, chicken with lemons.
In the church in Greve I saw a painting of Madonna (al Bambini e santi ) by Bicci (1368-1452).  (Later I see other paintings by Bicci at San Gimignano. ) Swam in the Villa pool  that afternoon with Bebe. 

Bicci Madonna in Crypt seen from Cathedral Above
Tuesday September 9We drove to Siena, parked and walked the long hill up to the center of the city.  I went to the cathedral while others shopped.  I visited first the Museo de Cathedrale which contains the various statuary that has been removed from the exterior of the cathedral in order to preserve it.  I also visited the crypt discovered in 1999 under the cathedral and into which steel girders have been erected to support the cathedral while excavations continued. 

Below the crypt are the remains of a Lombardy castle.  The first church was built on this.  The walls of the first church contain remnants of murals from the life of Christ.  The crypt had an exhibit of Santa Maria di latti – Mary nursing Baby Jesus by Ambrogio di Lorenzetti of the 13th Century – tempura su tavola.  There is another Maria a latti in the main church.  When I was in the main church, there was one spot where you could look down into the crypt and see the nursing Madonna with the golden background so I took the photo above.
Lunch was at Osteria  le Logge.  I had tagliatelli stuffed with rabbit.  Bebe had spaghetti with bacon (similar to carbonara).    Walking down to the car, Bebe and I got gelati – frutti di Bosco e tiramisu.

Ricasoli  Apron for Mark, Our Somnelier 
From Siena Blake and I drove with the Alex and Bebe to Castello di Brolio, home to Baron Ricasoli (one of the most prominent political leaders of the 19th century) .    He was part of the group that worked for unification of Italy and led the Tuscan liberals to expel the Grand Duke Leopold II.  He was asked by King victor Emmanuel II to become prime minister when Prime Minister Cavour died unexpectedly.  A stern man, he was called the “iron baron.”  I love the sound of his surname and the fact that he knew Napoleon.  We walked around outside the wooded areas and garden (formal boxwood gardens below) and we purchased aprons. 

Home at 6, Anita had already arrived to fix dinner.  After a swim and white wine, we had a sumptuous dinner.  Antipasti:  assorted vegetables – aubergines, dry grilled and seasoned with olive oil and white wine vinegar, onions pickled, zucchini dry grilled, and artichokes and red peppers.  Next we had porcini risotto (below
Anita con la torta
absolutely delicious.  The meat course was leg of lamb sliced to perfection – not overcooked and served with a sauce.  Dessert was chocolate torte with cream. 
Wednesday September 10:  La Foce  (means “mouth” or “estuary” as in mouth of river).    For me the highlight of the visit to Italy so far was the trip today to La Foce.  I drove with others to Montepulciana where we walked all the way to the top of the fort.  We had lunch at a small restaurant – an osteria – where I had Riboletta, a soup of white beans, carrots, potatoes, greens, thick but the vegetables are not mush (I’m unsure if there is onion or garlic in it).  Shared a delicious caprese salad with Blake (buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes in olive oil).

Then on to driving on my own to La Foce while the others went  to a winery.  At La Foce, I went on a tour of about 15 people.  The guide Sybelle was excellent.  In the courtyard of what was originally a road in front of the villa, there was a tree (in photos) that was the only one there at the time of the purchase in 1925. 
The architect Cecil Pinson moved the road but reminders of it are present in bollards.  Parts of the house existed in 1000 AD.   On the first level, from the house you can see woods on the mountain behind it – all planted by the Origos and, as Sybille pointed out, thereby raising the height of the mountain!  We looked at the orangerie (greenhouse) adjacent to the house – not very wide but good enough to start lemon trees.  Nearby there’s a lemon garden.  The true Tuscan Gardens, however, would lack the grass that the Origos planted (in true English style).

We walked to a spot where we could view the formal hedge gardens.  Pinsent created an optical illusion: 
  • The hedges are shorter than they seem.
  • The land appears flat but is slanting toward the fountain and statuary – the way the hedges are angled toward a diminishing perspective changes your perspective.\
  • The true focus of the garden is neither fountain nor statue but instead the light – a ballet of shadows Sybelle called it that plays across the garden in late afternoon.  Today was too misty to be able to observe that.    Two small boys in our group were sent down to the garden to show the height of hedge (probably 3 feet tall).
We then entered the higher gardens to the west approaching them through a tunnel of vines – hibiscus and others – there were herb gardens and flowers (originally a rose garden).

The Origos' son who died tragically in the 1920s is buried in a cemetery further west, which also was near a tenant house where they hid partisans during the War.  Anyone watching La Foce would think the individuals  were visiting the cemetery when in fact they were delivering food, news, etc.  Antonio Origo wore the black shirt of the Fascists by day but acted as a partisan – three wars were going on:  World War II with allies and Nazis, the Italian Revolution between Fascists and Anti-fascists and Germans v. Partisans.  All this is described by Iris Origo in her journal, War in Val D'Orcia.
The area was settled by the Etruscans who cut the timber for firewood and planted cereals and grains for porridge.  Thus the landscape had been denuded for centuries when the Origos arrived;  Iris herself described the site as a moonscape before she and Antonio began their planting.Some of the soil on one ridge inhospitable to plants and grows mostly a kind of broom or sedge.  Nevertheless, overall the landscape was transformed by the Origos and continues as a productive farm and tourism business.

The gang arrived at 6:15.  As it had started raining, they demurred on the tour.  We got home at 9 p.m. and cooked Pici (fat spaghetti) with sauce and leftovers from Anita’s dinner.
Iris Origo’s books:
 Images and Shadows 1970, reissued 1998/99 (David Godine, Boston)
  • The World of San Bernardo 1962
  • Leopardi, A Study in Solitude 1954/1999
  • The Last Attachment (story of Lord Byron and Teresa Guiccioli)
  • Merchant of Prato 1957/1986
  • A Need to Testify 1968/2000 (story of 3 men and one woman who were anti-fascist in WW2)
Mount Amiata is the extinct volcano nearby and there are 35 farmhouses.  Sibylle Holtz is a local painter and a guide for the garden and other Etruscan sites.

Germans occupied La Foce as headquarters at the end of the war, and Iris and Antonio plus their household including orphans housed at La Foce relocated to Montepulciano for about 10 days.  On return, they found the Germans had dug up all the lemon trees (later it was discovered the Germans hoped to find buried jewels there).  The Origos sold off more than 2/3 of their 7,000 acres.
Reflected Glory and Gory

Remembering John . . .
Thursday,  September 11:   It was raining when we awoke but it cleared up for Tavarnelle Market Day and then Negronis (drinks) in honor of John at Café Italia.  Blake and I had tomato and mozzarella caprese for lunch there.   We went to the Butcher Morandi and watched as he seasoned and prepared our pork roast.
Returning to La Citerna Blake and I made our vegetable casserole and then went with Mark to Sticciano for olive oil and photos.  We bought some very bad white wine.

View from Castello de Nero
We dressed up for drinks at Castello del Nero  in a beautiful setting. 

Hors d'oeuvres at Nero
Our Main Course
Dinner was the pork roast, the vegetable casserole, bread and tomatoes and burrata and lots of wine.  This was followed by sanducci (cookies) and vinsanto (like sherry) and debates over OJ Simpson, Oscar Pretorius  (found “culpable of something less
Pomodori con Burrata
than first degree premeditated murder) and the California referendum and initiative, especially the cap on real estate tax).
Friday, September 12:   Raining but we decided to press on to San Gimignano.  I went to Museo Civico and saw much medieval art.  Of especial interest were the depictions of San Geminino and San Fini, the patron saints of San Gimignano.  SG drove demons out of a person and  out of the city.  However, images of demons were also mixed in with Atila the Hum and other enemies.

San Fina was ill as a child, her mother with her until the devil killed the mother.  She continued to pray and drove away demons.  When she died, flowers appeared on her bier.  Many images of her but I liked the wood carving depicted here in photo on left.
I stopped on my way down the hill to purchase a salad set and bread baskets as gifts.  Lunch at home with bruschetta, leftover pork and lamb.  Wine.
The Lamb steaks

Tonight we went to La Locanda del Pietraculpa, a restaurant we'd visited on a previous trip.  It was a lovely place refurbished with an enclosed verandah that opens onto a garden.  Blake and I shared zucchini blossom appetizer that was deep fried.  I also had rabbit “steaks” wrapped around olive and tomato tapenade and served with mashed fagioli..  And Chianti of course.

Saturday, September 13:    
Last day at La Citerna.  We left at 9:15 or so to arrive first to Ceramiche Rampini just beyond Radda a Chianti.  Beautiful ware.  They get the pottery made elsewhere and then paint it.  I bought a large platter that can be hung or used for serving.  Afterward,  we drove to Badia a Coltibuono for lunch.  I had salted cod with a bread salad (tomatoes, cukes, onions and cilantro like spirit) with dressing and compacted into a small mold.  It was f
Alex and Louisa consult phones at Baddia.

Pasta Always
abulous.  And a dish of spaghetti with tuna roe.  I purchased
a salt cellar and discussed tai chi

with clerk wearing a black Tai Chi Tee shirt.  He had attended a class with Master Wang.

Bebe and Alex
Then we drove to Radda and wandered through shops.  I purchased two tea towels and found out about the cream for hands/body that I had hoped to get at Sticciano -- It’s available in Firenze at Herobore near Duomo.       
Candles Lit in Memory of  our Friend
Suzanne 1940-2014
Dinner at home of pici and hare Parmesan.  Salad with anchovies.  Everyone in this group likes anchovies which is great.  Finished off with wine and magnum bars.  Bebe demonstrated a QiQong wiggling exercise.  Very funny.

Arrivederci, La Citerna!
Sunday September 14We left La Citerna about 9:15 after housekeeper Susane arrived (the others had to leave earlier for their flights).  I told her in Italian that we were going to Firenze and Roma.  She loves the pope because he is simpatico and cares about il populo. 

We got into the city without much difficulty although I thought the pont Vespucci could not be the bridge over the Arno the span was so short.  After returning the car to the rental agency, a   cab brought us to our hotel Morandi alla Crochetta, which is delightful.  It was a convent that became an office building after the Revolution and then a hotel since about 1865.  Our room has wood paneled ceilings, fireplace, alcoves for closet and suitcase rack and a small patio with flowers and table.  In addition to beds, it has a sofa, writing table, TV, free Wi-Fi and nice art on the walls.  

 I walked to Uffizi and spent about 3 hours in museum although I never got to the Carvaggios or Raphaels.  It is such a fabulous museum that one could spend days there.  So many paintings and sculpture but I like this whimsical shot of bodies moving into many positions. 

Blake on Piazza della Signora

I met Blake at the arcaded Vecchi Palais and went to Rivoire Café across the Piazza della Signora where we had Negronis and chips, olives, canapes of potato, olive and zucchini.  Too tired for dinner we stopped at a street cafeteria, returned to the hotel and went to bed by 9.
Monday September 15We awoke 7ish and had breakfast at 8 (cornetto, cereal, yogurt, ham and cheese, cappacino), leaving by 9 for Santa Croce which was quite a walk.

Galileo Galilei
I had not been there before – many Giotto frescoes, tombs and memorials to Galileo, Michelangelo, Rossini, Florence Nightingale, Marconi, etc.  Medici chapels include burial places for Charlotte and Julia Bonaparte (Napoleon’s niece and Joseph’s daughter and wife).  Through the cloisters we saw memorial to either peace or to warriors, including a piece by Henry Moore.
I especially had wanted to see the Galileo memorial because at the time of his death, Galileo was not allowed to be buried on Roman Catholic property.  Later his remains were moved to Santa Croce but it was not until 1992 - 350 years after his death - that Pope John Paul II recognized that Galileo had suffered from the Church's errors.  Still, I am happy that in the last years of his life Galileo had met a woman he loved and with whom he corresponded.  His burial in Santa Croce is most fitting and, for me, moving. 
Lion at Santa Croce
We walked from Santa Croce to Mercato Centrale where I purchased a red and black cashmere shawl.  Lunch was at Toscano Café Mercato inside.  I ate spaghetti ala frutti du mar; Blake had a gazpacho with shrimp and burrata as well as a ceviche of some sort.
Vegetables at Mercato

Blake at Toscano Café - Mercato

We came back to the hotel mid-afternoon to rest.  Dinner was at Quarto Leoni in Oltrarno.  I  had fiocchetti alle pere con salsa di taleggio e asparagi , which was a pasta in a delicate white sauce.
The small piazza adjacent to our café area was bustling.  On one bench, an older Italian couple and various parings of young women coming and going.  On the left of the square, two or three benches, and a  necking couple.  Early on, a bridal pair arrived, she in a lacey see-through gown and tiara/coronet of flowers, the casually dressed groom in brown pants, sandals and jacket.  A well dressed and glamorous maid of honor in a satin long dress and two male friends completed the party.  They drank champagne, took photos and selfies and looked at their I-phones. 
Fiocchetti alle pere con salsa di taleggio e asparagi

Louisa and Mark's Store
At the adjacent table, an English speaking couple about our age – mid 60s-80s (I can never tell) – she quite lovely and he very straight faced and reserved in speech.  But Blake later told me she heard her say “Will we be able to stand each other for three or four days?”  When I was leaving the table (Blake already across the patio), I knocked an empty wine bottle to the floor and though I flinched, it only bounced and did not break.  The man then asked if we
 were from Carolina, and when I said no, Virginia.  He replied “similar accent”  Where are you from, I asked “Canada but my son was at Duke.”  To which I responded that my friend and I attended Carolina many long years ago.

We walked back across Ponte Vecchio, taking pictures of the jewelry store where Mark jokingly claims he has an account for Louisa. and then caught a cab home. 
The Arno at Night
Tuesday September 16Arose for breakfast and went toward the Piazza Annunciata in search of a Bancomat.  Blake and I separated near the Duomo because Banco there had no ATM; then,  Bancomat on Cavour “rejected” me.  I walked back toward Duomo and found ATM, then on to Proconsulo to find Da Herbore and my olio crème!
Back at the hotel, we made final ablutions and got a cab to  the  train station.  Train left on time.  Our fellow travelers were from Denver  travelling to Sorrento.  At Rome, we struggled with our bags and got a cab who probably ripped us off on fare.  We checked into Hotel Presidente, snacked on cheese and meat and prepared plans for today and tomorrow.

First, we visited the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore and then found a restaurant La Barrique on Bocchetta Street off Via Nationale near Milano Via.    On the way I asked a young man about our location.  He turned out to be British from Leicester, a student new to Rome but with a phone GPS, which verified we were on the right track.  While leading me toward Bochetta , I asked him about the vote on Scottish independence.  He understands their view but hopes they don’t separate thereby taking many labor votes and thus tilting England right politically – he noted he would not like that, and I agreed that was my view as well.
The restaurant was more like a small wine shop with a few tables in the street where we had wine and then moved inside for dinner.  Our waitress was an incredibly beautiful young woman with dark eyes, full mouth and gorgeous figure.  Very Italian looking.  I had a delicious eggplant meal. 
Sistine Chapel
School at Athens - A copy hangs in Cabell Hall, UVa
Wednesday September 17:   We had breakfast at the hotel then left for Vatican tour reaching our location via metro 45 minutes early.  So we had a cappuccino at a nearby café.  Our tour group of 21 was led by a beautiful 30- year-old woman who was very good.  Leading us from outside Vatican Museum near the Garden into museum and telling us about the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s painting and his secret messages to the Pope.  I especially loved a room of maps of Italy frescoed on the walls and the tapestry rooms also.  And we learned about Alexander, the BAD pope who fathered many children.  I'll have to learn more about him.
Vatican Pizza

Because of the Pope’s audience (that is, the good pope we have now) on Wednesday, we had lunch and returned to St. Peter’s afterward, having to retrace our steps through the Museum and Chapel – OVERWHELMING. 

Pantheon in morning

Pantheon  at dusk
In the afternoon we returned to hotel.  For the evening we took the metro to Barberini and then walked tothe Trevi Fountain (under construction) and the Pantheon (which was closing for the day).  We had Negronis Sbadalitas in honor of John and later dinner at another restaurant near Piazza Navarone (L’Arcano?).  Looked in shops, etc. and were home by 9 in cab.
Thursday, September 18:    We returned to area near Pantheon and visited the pantheon.  We had lunch – a salad – Capreciata.   (You may notice by now that my entries are becoming abbreviated.)
Visited the Roman ruins at Palazzo Valentini:  This was absolutely fascinating.  We walked over ruins which were covered in glass so we could look down at the baths or the tiles of the floors.  Then the museum projected a display showing you what the structure would have looked like.  A very interesting combination of antiquities and enhanced technology.  We could only take a photo of the ruins that are still outdoors. 
We went back to the hotel  to meet Joan for a drink and then return  to Colesso area to pick up our tickets, then have a nearby dinner at Bici -- eggplant parmesan.  The Colesso tour by moonlight was wonderful; very uncrowded and we got to visit the floors below.

The next morning we left early for the airport with a somewhat harrowing drive (an incredibly fast driver whom Blake told to slow down).  No traffic on the road.  The rest of our journey was fortunately uneventful.  Alex picked us up at Dulles and we dropped in on his family for a visit and yet another delicious meal.

But of course there is much fashion in Italy and so I cannot end without at least one window shot.


         More meals:

A colorful Lunch - Beets, pasta, greens and other delicacies


 Trevi Fountain Under Reconstruction  

Bernini Fountain in Plaza Navarone


 Arrivederci, Italia!

Signing Off - Kay

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