JaniceHeck

My Time to Write, but The Cats have The Last Meow!

Archive for the category “Italy”

Make Me Smile: Ten Things We Love about Italy

Janice Heck:

Reblogged from Panini Girl. Ten Things We Love about Italy.

Originally posted on Panini Girl:

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WANAfriday: Your Favorite (Cat) Quote, Of Course

The WANAfriday prompt this week is to cite your favorite quote, but choosing a favorite quote is like going into an exquisite little Italian bakery and pastry shop in Poggibonsi, Italy, and trying to pick out only one delectable item. (You can read more about that here: Italy: Breakfast (La Prima Colazione) in Poggibonsi, Tuscany, Italy.)

How about a cheesy loaf of bread served with rosemary infused olive oil or a crusty roll flavored with pesto and garlic;

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a crusty, hollow rosetta roll just ready for some butter and jam or thin slices of ham and cheese;

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a deep-crust pizza topped with tomatoes, cheese, and basil;  543

or a limone tarte, carnetto (sweet croissants), la sfogliatella (filled, flaky-layered pastries), crostata di frutta (fruit-filled rustic tarts), tiramisu, an amaretti (small amaretto-flavored cookies).

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Each delectable offering is irresistable and taunting. How can I just choose one? How about a little of this and a little of that. And maybe that other one for later in the morning.

It’s just as bad as going into a gelato shop and having to choose one flavor. Nope, it can’t be done.

241Well, you can try.

gelato-Laura Griffin photo

And choosing a favorite quote is as hard as choosing a favorite kitten from a box of sweetie-pies sitting outside the neighborhood grocery store. Just impossible.

cats in box - kittens
But I must admit, that I do have a few favorite quotes that I toss out from time to time. And wouldn’t you know, most of them are about: cats. Cats and poems about cats make me smile.

T.S. Eliot in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (later to become CATS, the Broadway musical) has some of my favorite lines, starting with:

T.S. Eliot, The Old Possum's Book of Practical CatsThe naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t one of your holiday games.
You may thing at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
. . .
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified.
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his wishers, or cherish his pride?
. . .

There’s more to this delicious cat-naming silliness, but you’ll have to pull it up on Internet yourself.

Royalty, Photo Credit: Elsie the Cat

Royalty, Photo Credit: Elsie the Cat

The Last Meow

How does one name a feline of such obvious royal character and lineage? Now tell me. T.S. Eliot got it right:

But above and beyond there’s still one name left over.
And that is the name that you never will guess;
 The name that no human research can discover-
But the CAT HIMSELF KNOW, and will never confess.

Meow for now. =<^ ; ^>=

Here are some favorite quotes of a few of my WANA112 blogger buddies:

Ellen Gregory reminds you that Your Stories Matter
Cora Ramos shares Four Steps to Writing a Novel
Kim Griffin presents Understanding Life and Ice Cream Happiness

By the way, what have you named the royal king, queen, prince, or princess in your household? And does your cat approve of this earthly name? I’ll write a post next week on the royal names you send to me.

Weekly Photo Challenge. The Sign Says: Attenti Al Gatto

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

cat in italy- attenti al gatto

[Sign in ceramics shop in San Gimignano, Italy]

Maybe this cat is calling a general meeting to discuss world issues like the over abundance of cat-less homes, the ratio of tuna to grain in canned cat food, the lack of cat parks, the need for regulations to control nap interruptions, and many other cat grievances.

Tuscany in Mind – Second Time Around

wana logo

Every Friday, one member of WANA112 posts a prompt for other WANAs to consider. Here’s today’s prompt:

Second Time Around -

Tell us about a book you can read again and again without getting bored — what is it that speaks to you?

Tuscany in Mind: An Anthology edited by Alice Leccese Powers. Vintage Books (Random House), New York, 2005.

I don’t remember how this book came to be in my possession, but it has traveled to Italy and back with me. It is a collection of excerpts from thirty-eight well-known authors  (e.g., James Boswell, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Dickens, Henry James) and lesser-known (to me) authors (e.g., Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kinta Beevor, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Bruce Chatwin).001 (14)

Why would this motley crew of writers write about Tuscany? Because they all lived there or vacationed there at one point in their lives and felt compelled to write about their experiences.

As I arrived in each town in Tuscany, I pulled out Tuscany In Mind and read who-said-what about the local area: Florence, Siena, Pisa, Volterra, Lucca, San Gimignano, Maremma, and other hill towns.

My favorite excerpt in the book, Any Four Women could Rob the Bank of Italy, by Ann Cornelisen, is set in San Felice Val Gufo (not far from Siena).

There, locked away from time, the San Felicians live in a closed society of intermarriage and inoccupation, insulated from life beyond the hills that surround them.

San Felicia is a town where the water tastes “froggy” by the end of the summer, where movies in the creaky old opera house tend to be ignored, and where neighbors watch neighbors through slatted window shutters to gather bits of local news. And don’t you dare get sick in San Felice; go to Siena. That is much wiser!

One day, Caroline, a well-bred Englishwoman, arrives in town. The men ogle. The women shun. The long-established order of things, suddenly fragile, begins to . . . . Well, you can imagine. When Caroline and her friends decide to rob the Bank of Italy in the cause of feminine rights, things get downright interesting.

The excerpt hooked me. I had to know what happened. When I returned home from Italy, I found the well-worn and yellowed book in the cellar of my local library, read it, laughing the whole way through, and then wrote and posted: Italy Reading: Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy.

Every time I pick up Tuscany in Mind: An Anthology, vivid memories of my own trip through Tuscany flood my mind. My trip was beyond compare, and this book contributed immeasurably to my enjoyment.  The writing in this book is exquisite, even poetic. The rustic Italian vocabulary slips into perfectly formed sentences that flow with energy and flavor. You can see Tuscany; you can hear it, touch it, feel it, and taste it. Read any of these excerpts, and you will start planning your next trip.

Other excerpts in the Tuscany in Mind include stories of romance, food, wine, complex relationships, history, art, architecture, gardens, and so much more. It’s hard to put Tuscany into words, but these writers have done it well and tease you into seeking out and reading their full works. Alice Leccese Powers has done an incredible job selecting and excerpting the best of the best.

Be sure to check these WANA bloggers and their second time around book choices:

Ellen Gregory: The Lions of Al-Rassan
Margaret Miller: On the Beach
Rabia Gale: Howl’s Moving Castle
Linda Adams:  The Beauty of Omniscient Viewpoint
Cora Ramos: Mistress on Synchronicity
Kim Griffin: The Hunger Games
Tami Clayton: Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter Bks, Time Traveler’s Wife, Cabin Pressure
Seth Swanson, Jedi, Elantris, Monster Hunt Intl

The Last Meow

Italians say “Ciao” for “good-bye.” Ciao sounds like chow. Is it time to eat yet?

kitten-eating

Meow for now. Ciao!  =<^;^>=

S is for Stats and Milestones–10,000 Views Milestone! WooHoo

a-to-z-letters-201310,000 views of my blog? Really? How did that happen?

I hadn’t really paid much attention to the stats that WordPress keeps for each blog, not realizing how broad the reach of a blog can be. So in early April, when out of curiosity I clicked on my blog stats, I was surprised shocked to see that my blog had well over 9000 views.

Getting StartedThey laughed

I laughed when several years ago my daughter said, “You ought to start a blog.”

Why on earth would I do that? I laughed.

But once the seed fell out onto the ground, it began to take root and grow, not right away, but over time.

One of my first blog posts was, “They Laughed When I Sat Down at The Piano.” You know, sort of like, “They laughed when I sat down to blog.”

wana imageWANA: We Are Not Alone

I have been blogging for a while now. I muddled around started with a BlogSpot.com blog,  titled GED Writer, in September of 2010, writing about the GED (high school equivalency testing for dropouts) and adult education topics. I realized this was not a hot topic for a blog and decided to think the matter over a bit more.

I tried again with WordPress in December of 2011, finally getting a blog going in January of 2012. I met Kristen Lamb online and began to follow her posts at Writing Warriors. I read her book, We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, and I joined her WANA112 group: 100 writers who wanted to get better at blogging.  Kristen advised us to use our own names as our blog titles because we needed to build name recognition as serious bloggers. She also advised us to branch out and write about multiple interests rather than just write about our primary, more narrow, writing interests.  All of this was great and encouraging advice.

In the process of building my blog, I made lots of new writer friends. Of those 100 original writers in WANA112, 88 of us still keep in touch on Facebook on our closed group page.

And more amazing than that was that I gathered followers, kind readers who left encouraging notes.  I learned a lot from reading their posts, too. Such clever people, I thought. I will always appreciate these early followers. These are the best friends I have never met:

Tami Clayton, Taking Tea in the Kasbah
Elaine Smothers, Wonder in the Wild
emaginette, Shout With Emaginette
Glenda Mills, Meet Me On The Mountain
Barbara Forte Abate, Scribbling Outside The Lines
Judythe Morgan, Voice and Views from The Front Porch
Mike Schulenberg, Realms of Perilous Wonder
Sheila Pierson, Wonderstruck
Ellen V. Gregory, to beyond and back
Jodi Lea Stewart   Walking on Sunshine
Liv Rancourt, Laughter, life and romance under partly sunny skies
Elizabeth Fais, Where the awesome begins
Sara Walpert Foster, Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition
Siri Paulson, everyday enchantments
Linda Adams, Soldier, Storyteller
Sherry Isaac, Psychological Sizzle
Sherri Martin-Hutchins, live wonderstruck
And none of us could get anywhere without advice from Laird Sapir, of Shabby Chic Sarcasm

A to Z Badge 2012 (1)A to Z Challenge, 2012

But I didn’t really get into more serious blogging until the April 2012 A to Z Challenge (to write 26 posts in the month of April). I took the challenge seriously. I decided that if I could do 26 posts in that short a time, I could probably do more. The A to Z format certainly made it easier to come up with ideas.

I finished the 2012 A to Z with a hey,-I-can-do-this-blogging-thing attitude, further reinforcing Kristen Lamb’s yes-you-can-do-it encouragement.

Of course, blogging daily is tricky to do what with all the other commitments in life, so I settled into a doable pattern of two to three blog posts a week and continued through November of 2012 before taking a break because of family health issues. When that 2013 A to Z Challenge flashed around the Internet, I was hooked again!

Topics

In May of 2012, I traveled to Tuscany and Rome in Italy for two weeks with my sister-in-law and two other friends and found many topics to writevilla-Il Cortile del Borgo about there. We rented a villa named Il Borghetto near San Gimignano and wrote about that. We visited other intriguing Italian cities, and I wrote about them: Florence, Lucca, Sienna, Pisa, aother charming towns. We traveled to Rome, and I wrote about our adventures there, staying in an old family-run hotel near Piazza Navona.

After Italy, I returned to Southern New Jersey and wrote about surprising things there: blueberry festivals, derecho (severe wind storm), veggie farms, Relay for Life, Ocean City, and a few other events of interest in my home state. And I added recipes for my favorite foods using “Jersey Fresh” vegetables and fruits.

For the 2013 A to Z Challenge, I have focused more on Writing PLUS Grammar-You-Can-See. Let’s just wait-and-see what comes along next!

Thanks, again, to all my faithful friends and followers. You truly are the best. My blogging adventure has been fun, though I must admit it has had its hours and hours moments of frustration. The learning curve is steep, but it does level off get less steep as you move along. Just keep writing!

***

Here’s a post from Ellen Gregory, a WANA112 friend, on her recent accomplishment of writing 200 posts. It’s so nice to see my blogger friends hit their own milestones. Congratulations, Ellen.

The Last Meow

Of course, kitties have been a big part of my blog. They always have something smart to say. They really don’t care for myTerribly Cute pic...cat attitude grammar posts, but they seem to like the rest of my blog topics. They celebrate with me on our 10,000 views. After all, that means they get 10,000 views, too. No grumpy cats here!

Meow for now.   ={^;^}=

Dining Out: Pizza at Home and Pizza in Italy

Finding good pizza on the Ocean City, NJ, Boardwalk is easy because the competition is fierce.

But many of us have our favorite place: Manco & Manco.

My niece, Lori, who now lives in Sedona, Arizona, managing the Alma de Sedona Inn, asked me to post a picture of Manco & Manco on Facebook. I guess she was a little nostalgic for the ocean breeze, the surf and sand, and the pizzzzzaaaaahhhhh!

Manco & Manco Pizza on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ. Yes, that is a line to get in and sit down. Best bet: buy it by the slice and sit on a Boardwalk bench to eat it.  No waiting.

Next, Lori asked me to post a picture of an M & M pizza that she could put on her refrigerator at work.

Cheese pizza at Manco & Manco

All this talk of pizza reminded me of the wonderful pizza I had in Rome.

Walking near Campo de’ Fiori on a beautiful, sunny, May day, we came to a pizza shop…actually a doorway entrance to a bakery with two standing-only tables outside.

Down this way, around the corner, down an alley…

Come on. We’re getting close. I can smell something delicious. Ah, it must be coming from this doorway…

Marco Forno Roscioli

Antico Forno Marco Roscioli, 34 Via dei Chiavari, Rome, Italy. (Forno means oven.)

llll

You buy pizza by the inch (al tagio, by the slice) at forno Roscioli. I ordered “this much,” and the attendant cut off four inches of the margherita pizza, cut it in half, folded it over to make it sandwich-like, placed it in on brown waxed paper, and handed it to me. Delicious. Crispy. Flavorful. Hint of basil. Stringy cheese. Outstanding.

Tutto molto buono!

Wait, here comes another pizza hot out of the oven: pizza with tomatoes, ricotta, and fresh basil. Unfortunately, my four inches of margherita pizza had filled me up, and I couldn’t eat any more.

Here comes another: zucchini and cheese pizza. I think we’d better leave this pizza place! It is all too tempting.

Pizza. Now I’m hungry. Maybe I can sweet talk my dear, darling husband into running out for some now while I plan my next trip to Italy.

Dining In: Peasant Chicken from San Gimignano, Italy

A recipe for Chicken with Herb Roasted Tomatoes and Pan Sauce posted by Epicurious (recipe here) reminded me of a delicious Peasant Chicken dinner that I had in San Gimignano, Italy this past May.

Peasant Chicken is similar to Hunter Chicken (a cacciatore), but the unique feature of this dish is that it includes green olives.

Here is my photo of the dish as served in San Gimignano.

I searched the Internet as well as my own vast collection of cookbooks for recipes for peasant chicken and came up with several possibilities.

Epicurean.com has a recipe for Chicken with Green Olives that sounds like the dish that I had. That recipe is here.

I checked The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen by Frances Mayes and Edward Mayes and found Chicken with Olives and Tomatoes. Mayes’ recipe uses both black and green olives. I am sure that the recipe varies with regional preferences.

I will try the Frances Mayes’ recipe today and see how my rendition compares to the original in San Gimignano.

Grocery list: Chicken, wine from the Chianti region of Italy, Jersey Fresh cherry tomatoes, broad leaf parsley, black  olives, and green olives. I already have extra-virgin olive oil. Consult the cookbook for exact quantities for these ingredients.

First, oven roast the cherry tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half, season with salt and pepper, and toss in garlic and herbs. Roast for a few hours on low oven heat. Here’s a peek at a bowl of the tomatoes (half the batch).

Now brown the chicken in olive oil and add a bit of chianti. Move the chicken and wine to a baking dish. Cover with a mix of the olives, parsley, and roasted tomatoes. Bake for thirty minutes.

Serve over nests of angel hair pasta or your own favorite pasta.

This is how my dish turned out. It smells so good, and it is delicious. It looks similar to the San Gimignano version, but I think the San Gimignano recipe uses white wine and more olive oil. Regardless, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Next week, I will try the Epicurean.com recipe and see which dish comes closer to the one Mama made in Italy.

YOUR TURN: Have you tried to duplicate a dish from another country or another area of our country?

Mash-Up: Saturday Sampling of Posts Worthy of Notice

Data: 430,802 bloggers wrote 964,269 posts today on WordPress.Com.  Add all the new posts on Blogger.com, and you have an overwhelming number of blog posts to read.

Who has time to read them all?

Freshly Pressed by WordPress features excellent posts of the last day or so, and mash-ups by individual bloggers help to identify other good ones. Here is a Saturday sampling of my own blogosphere wanderings this week.

Humor: Leave it to Wana112 groupie, Laird Sapir, to find some off-the-wall humorous oddity to write about. In this post, she writes about Party Rats. Read her tongue-in-cheek post to learn how you can use these little critters for night blogging.  http://www.lairdsapir.com/2012/07/lets-party-rats/

Writing: Barbara Forte Abate reviews the true meaning of some common expressions we use in everyday speaking and writing. I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag by telling you which expressions she writes about; just take a look-see for yourself. I think you’ll enjoy reading her comments at http://barbaraforteabate.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/hair-of-the-dog

Luca the Wonder Dog

Dogs: Speaking of “Hair of the Dog,” here’s a post by Cassandra Heck (my stepdaughter) about her dog, Luca. Luca is a comedian in canine wrappings. This 90-pound behemoth wraps his owner and family right around his little toe. He gives lots of love in return, so the trade-off is worth it. Read about him at http://cassandraheck.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/this-crazy-thing-called-luca/

Culture and Literature: Jacqui Talbot, storyteller extraordinaire, writes down memorable Choctaw tales as told to her by her grandfather. This particular tale tells about great waves crashing down on Choctaw land and destroying everything. One survivor, who had predicted a catastropic flood, had built a raft in the mountains and survived. This tale is mesmerizing.  http://justjacqui2.com/2012/07/

Parenting: How do blogs and parenting connect? “Homemadekids” suggests a number of ways bloggers can help parents, from passing on recipes to sharing ideas about how to bring up children to become thoughtful adults.  http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/focus-on-parenting-blogs/

Photos:  I lived near San Francisco for a number of years and always loved going over the Golden Gate Bridge.  Sometimes it was in fog, and sometimes it was in the clear; either way, it was always beautiful. This particular photograph is spectacular. http://ilikephotoblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/golden-gate-bridge-san-francisco/

Travel: “Where’s my backpack?” writes about the Franciscan Monastery of Mount St. Sepulchre in the Brookland neighborhood in northeastern Washington, DC. The Franciscan Order, established in the 12th century, was charged with caring for all Christian shrines in the Holy Land. The buildings and grounds of this monastery, built later to provide “a taste of the Holy Land,” features replicas of those shrines and chapels in the Holy Land.

This monastery is on my list of things to see before I travel (I hope) to Israel in December. “Where’s my backpack?” does a great job giving descriptive detail, historical background, and photos of this site. Read both posts. http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/07/25/catacombs-and-old-byzantium-i/ and http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/07/25/catacombs-and-old-byzantium-ii/

Zucchini Tart (after dinner)

Recipes:  Panini Girl has an obsession with Italy and with food, two of my favorite topics.  Recently she posted a recipe for a tomato tart (July 6, 2012), and this week she put up a recipe for a delicious-looking zucchini tart. I went out today, bought all the ingredients I needed, and made one up for dinner. It’s as delicious as it looks!  The recipe for the zucchini tart was posted on July 26, 2012. Here’s a picture of my attempt.

Recipes: What to do with those extra blueberries? You have more than enough to make my easy-peasie blueberry tart (recipe here), so why not make this blueberry…umm…casserole pie found on the Three Clever Sisters blog on July 26, 2012.  This is a great pie for a big family gathering.

Cats: And finally, no mash-up of mine would ever be complete without the feline connection. Cats just make me happy. Last week on Saturday Silliness, I posted “Where do cats sleep?”  Andmycat.com posted a collection of delightful kitties here:  http://www.andmycat.com/2012/07/todays-featured-kitties-july-27.html

YOUR TURN: What was your favorite blog this week?

Il Borghetto, Medieval Villa Restored in Tuscany

Frances Mayes and Marlena De Blasi did it. Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry did it. Phil Doran did it. Ann Cornelisen did it. Alice Leccese Powers tells of others who did it.

What do these people have in common?

Besides being writers, all these people lived in Tuscany or other parts of Italy, and many of them bought and renovated old villas or farmhouses.

And the Bimbi family (Sandra, Simona, Riccardo, and Nicola) did it, too. In 1999, they purchased Il Borghetto, one of nine farms of Pietrafitta located within sight of  the medieval walled city of San Gimignano.  The villa was in serious need of restoration, as you can see by the following pictures (used by permission of the Bimba family).

Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto lie between Florence and Siena in the Tuscany region of Northern Italy. The name Pietrafitta means “stone pressed into the ground,” indicating a tollgate marker or boundary line on the ancient Strada Chiantigiana, the road from Florence going south to Siena. The road is now SR222.

Road leading to Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto

Over Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto’s long history, political, religious, and economic events intertwined, reflecting the historical upheavals of the times as Tuscany moved through the dark ages, medieval times, the Renaissance, and into modern times.

In early medieval Tuscany successive rounds of invaders from the North, Ostrogoths (405AD), Goths (552 AD), and Lombards (570 AD) claimed territory in Italy. The Pope called in Charlemagne, King of the Franks to rout the Lombards in 774 AD. Charlemagne drove them out and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor (800 AD) for his efforts. This started the power struggles between the pope and the emperor: Who will rule Italy? The emperor or the pope?

As if these external forces did not cause enough problems, Italy had a long, checkered history of internal power struggles, constant feuding, scandals, and broken treaties. Wars of revenge or conquest raged almost continuously between competing and often changing factions of popes and cardinals, emperors and kings, Ghibellines (supporters of the Holy Roman Empire) and the Guelphs (supporters of the pope), noble families, and in later times, the bourgeoisie (merchants, the rising middle class), plebeians (common people), and serfs (workers bound to their owners).

All of this resulted in instability in the region as major city-states (Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Venice, Parma, Milan, and others) fought against each other. To be on the wrong side of a conflict meant plunder, destruction of property, and often banishment or death. Even towns suffered the fate of complete destruction and mass forced exile. Bribery sometimes saved the towns as mercenaries preferred money to loyalty. These were not easy times by any means.

Eventually, after centuries of both external and internal power struggles, King Victor Emmanual II unified Italy in 1861, the first time it had been united since the 6th century just before the Holy Roman Empire began to disintegrate. Still, Italy had more tough problems to face with World War I, Mussolini, and World War II.

How did Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto fare through all of this history? In my next post, I will concentrate on the families that owned Il Borghetto over these chaotic centuries.

In the meantime, this is what Il Borghetto looks like today after restoration by the Bimbi family.

On the door mantle: PARVA SED APTA MIHI
“Small, but enough for me”
From 16th century poet, Ludovico Ariosto.

Ourtdoor dining

Carol, Inger, Chris at dinner at 8 pm on Il Borghetto’s covered patio after a long day of exploring Tuscany.

Just as the writers mentioned earlier discovered, restoring a villa is hard work, but the final results bring pride and satisfaction. Not really small or just enough, Il Borghetto is magnificent and inviting. Congratulations to the Bimbi family for a job well done. You can find Il Borghetto at www.ilborghettotuscanholidays.com. Plan to stay there on your next trip to Tuscany.

Read my next post to see how the previous owners of Pietrafitta and Il Borghetto fared through Italian history.

You can read more about Il Borghetto in modern times in my earlier post here.

YOUR TURN: Do you know other writers who have restored a villa or farmhouse? What other writers have focused on Italy in their writing?

Italy: San Gimignano, Medieval Time Warp

Twelve kilometers away from Poggibonsi, the medieval fortress town of San Gimignano stands regally on a hill, preserved through the centuries. Its historic towers, dating from the 1200s, can be seen from a distance. Walk through its gates and walk into another world, another time.

Originally a small Etruscan village (200-300 BC) named Castel di Salva, San Gimignano was renamed after Bishop Geminianus sometime after the 6th century. One story reports that the bishop, outfitted in shining golden armor, came riding into town out of the thick and swirling valley mists, terrifying the Goth invaders who took off without a fight. For saving their town from these evil ruffians, the people adopted his name and his patronage. They were to call on him in prayer and penance years later during many more bad times.

Medieval times were hard times. Not only did the people have to worry about those Goth and Lombard invaders from the North, their own internal struggles kept them in disarray. Warring factions, the Guelphs (who supported the Pope in Rome), and the Ghibellines (who supported the Holy Roman Emperor), competed for power. This serious religious/political rivalry started in 1215 and took centuries to resolve.

Powerful families in San Gimignano, the Adringhelli (Guelph loyalists), and the Salyucci Family (Ghibelline devotees) built towers, not only for defense against outside invaders, but also from each other. The towers also served as repositories of their great wealth and as symbols of their political power.

A great wall surrounds the entire town, and tall gates at the Porta San Giovanni guard the entrance.

San Gimignano was conveniently located on the ancient Via Francigena, the route faithful pilgrims followed when traveling from France to Rome to pay homage to the Pope. San Gimignano became an important respite for the travelers from thieves and other troublemakers who roamed the countryside. Exhausted pilgrims and traveling merchant-traders spent the night inside the safety of the town’s walls before continuing their journeys the next morning.

The city was prosperous until a series of plagues in 1348, 1464, and 1631 repeatedly decimated its population. San Gimignano fell into further economic decline when the route to Rome bypassed the city, a result of neighboring Florence’s punishing powerplay.

Travel mate, Christine (right), checks a cistern which collects rainwater drained from the rooftops. We can imagine the daily gathering of people at the cistern, gossiping and trading news about the latest events. They probably talked about the ongoing rivalry between the Pope and the Emperor and wondered when it would all end.

The steps of the church in the Piazza Del Duomo invite people to sit and rest for a while and people-watch. The Cappela di Santa Fina is located inside the Duomo, dedicated to a fifteen-year-old girl.

For the religious faithful, San Gimignano had its patron saints. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, author of Italian Days (1989), tells of Fina del Ciardi (1238-1253), a girl born of noble parents who became a patron saint and was venerated in this walled fortress city.

One story goes that Fina, at the tender age of ten, accepted an orange from a young man, and guilt-ridden, she fell ill and didn’t move for five years, praying continuously. Another report says that she was stricken with a serious illness, possibly tuberculosis/osteomyelitis, that paralyzed her.

At her death at age 15, yellow pansies suddenly bloomed profusely and angels rang the church bells. Reports of miraculous healing attributed to Fina occurred, ensuring that she would be remembered and venerated for a long time. To this day, an annual celebration occurs on March 12, the anniversary of her death, and the day yellow pansies bloom.

Two frescoed panels by Florentine Renaissance master Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1475, in the Cappella di Santa Fina depict her story

From these same church steps, The Palazzo del Popolo, the town hall (1238-1323), can be seen on the right.

Dante Alighieri (1261-1321) poet, author of the Divine Comedy, and a Guelph, visited here and encouraged the people to support the the Pope in his struggle against the Roman Emperor. Alighieri was trapped on the wrong side of a Guelph internal power struggle and was exiled from Florence in 1302. He wrote Comedia (later named the Divine Comedy) describing afterlife in hell, purgatory, and paradise. Are you surprised to hear that Dante depicted his enemies suffering excruciating pain in hell?

At the highest point in San Gimignano, we find the Rocca, the remains of the city’s medieval fortress and its one surviving tower. Cosimo De’ Medici, the well-known politician (bully) of Florence, had other towers dismantled in the 16th century. Now the Rocco is a lovely public park with fig and olive trees, cobbled walks, quiet places to sit, and spectaular views.

A group of young musicians have an informal session in the park, much to the delight of our foursome.

Today, San Gimignano is a bustling town with locals selling wine (Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine), olive oil, colorful ceramics, souvenirs, and ubiquitous postcards. Tourists fill the streets, crowding the alleys and craning their necks to view the remaining towers.

Inger-Anne (below) ponders whether her stash of Norwegian chocolate will really last for the whole week. Maybe we should get a little Italian chocolate to tide us over?

Tourists pack the street during the day but depart for their buses in the early evening, leaving our foursome to wander the alleys in relative quiet.

Restaurants can be found in every piazza or alley and even along the outside city walls.

And don’t forget the gelato. You can find a gelateria in every piazza.

San Gimignano has served as the setting for both novels and movies. E. M. Forster wrote Where Angels Fear to Tread set in the village Monteriano, loosely based on San Gimignano. John Grisham used San Gimignano as the setting for The Broker. In 1999, the film, Tea with Mussolini, in which a group of women saved valuable San Gimignanian frescoes from destruction by the German has scenes from this area. Ann Cornelisen also describes Tuscany hill scenes in her hilarious novel, Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy.

And now, it’s been a long day. So let’s have some gelato ourselves.

Stop by and visit San Gimignano with Rick Steves.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGdS0T19BbI

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