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).
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?
Meow for now. Ciao! =<^;^>=
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
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/
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?
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.
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.
Ann Cornelison, author of Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy (1983), details how it could be done while writing a screenplay. But soon the plan becomes a challenge. Will these four women do it? Of course they will.
Will they get caught? Not telling!
This book has been called a “caper-romp” with serious feminist underpinning.
It seems that females are so highly regarded in Italy that they could not possibly be a part of that male dominated group infamously known as “Italian macho mail train robbers.” But really, is that fair? Why can’t women have the same rights as men? As these expat women consider this issue, a daring (and hilarious) plan develops.
When the police search for the male thugs who carried out this highly organized mail train robbery, heisting a huge government payroll in the process, four seemingly innocent expat women stand by and watch. The befuddled Italian carabinieri blunder through irrelevant clues, coming up with frustration and outrageous speculation. Terrorists? Really?
But how can these four women prove their point if the crime is not revealed? Hmmmm. Read the book!
Ann Cornelison moved to Tuscany in 1954. Originally intending to be an archaeologist, she instead became involved in setting up nurseries in impoverished villages in Southern Italy with the Save the Children Fund. Later she moved to Tuscany where she bought a thirteenth-century house, the setting of the women’s crime-planning sessions.
This book is an oldie (1983) but a goodie. You can find it on Internet or in your local library.
Eating gelato seems to be a national pastime in Italy. Three girls enjoy gelato in San Gimignano. Stroll through the streets and cobbled alleys of any city in Italy, and you will find gelateria displaying vibrant colors and tasty flavors of gelato in freezer cases in the front windows. The displays look like entries in a showcase competition. You can almost hear the shopkeepers’ unspoken challenges to each other:
“My mountain of gelato is so much prettier than your mountain of gelato!” But there are rules for eating gelato, as Michael Tucker says in Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy: “Italians follow a very strict code when it comes to eating, and one hard and fast rule is gelato at four o’clock.” Carol, my sister-in-law, and I managed to get gelato in Rome just about every day. We didn’t quite follow the four o’clock rule, but no matter. Gelato is good any time of the day. My favorites: frutta di bosco (mixed berry-”fruits of the forest”), fragola (strawberry), and limone (lemon). Carol liked coco (coconut) and cioccolato (chocolate). Of course, we tried many other flavors: caffe (coffee), melone (melon), mango, creme caramel, straciatella (vanilla with chocolate flakes), and pistachio. You can have your gelato in a cono (cone), a coppa (cup), gusto (double-dip), or any other outrageous way. Photo by Laura Griffin as seen on her blog post, “Roman Holiday.” You can even have gelato on a brioche (sweet bun). Read about that gourmet treat here. But purists will never get gelato in a cone or on a bun. Heavens, no. That would contaminate this icy confection’s pure flavor and texture! A cup with a teeny plastic spoon is the only acceptable way to eat gelato.
Gelato is made a little differently than our American ice cream. It is made with whole milk, eggs, sugar, and flavoring, but it has a lower butterfat content than our ice cream. It has a creamy, smooth texture, and it is not frozen hard, so you can eat it faster without getting an ice cream headache!
If you go to Italy, just remember the rule: Gelato at 4 p.m. (and any other time you want it). I promise, you will love it.
Our home away from home: Il Borghetto, a restored villa located between Poggibonsi and San Gimignano in Central Italy.
Il Borghetto, once a part of Villa Pietrafitta, sits atop a hill at the end of a long, winding gravel road.
From the moment we enter through its gates, we seem to be in another world, yet we are close enough to make day trips out to visit Siena, Lucca, Pisa, Volterra, and Florence.
The Bimbi family owns the villa, and they are most gracious, courteous, and friendly to all of the guests. Mamma Silvanna and her assistant chefs prepare outstanding Tuscan specialities for our special candlelight dinner outside under the pergola. On cold and rainy nights, dinner is served in the elegant La Stanza del Duca (the Duke’s Room). For one of the dining evenings, the menu featured a variety of bruschetta, a delicate green lasagna with delicious pink cream sauce, pork loin and sauteed fresh vegetables, and tiramisu and coffee. Patrizia, one of the chefs, offers cooking classes for anyone interested in learning to cook Tuscan recipes.
Il Borghetto staff photo by Il Borghetto.
The scenery around Il Borghetto is incredible. The views from our windows are spectacular, especially in the early morning mists.
Morning mists photo by Christine Kolstad, fellow traveler.
Hiking paths through the olive groves beg to be explored.
One path leads to an excellent view of the medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano, only a forty minute walk down a country lane. (“Tea with Mussolini” was filmed there.)
At the end of our hike, the villa pool invites us to cool off with a late afternoon swim.
All this and we have been in Italy only one day!
Next post: The Il Borghetto Story: Before and After Restoration
Tuscany: a region of Central Italy, formerly a grand duchy (a territory ruled by a duke or duchess); an exquisitely beautiful setting, aloof and apart from the outside world; quiet, serene.
Sounds and sights and scents of a perfect setting command our full attention. My companions (sister-in-law, Carol; niece, Christine; and friend Inger-Anne) want to miss nothing. We gape wide-eyed at everything in sight. We listen. We smell. We touch. We taste.
Variegated patchworks of spring greens cover rolling hills and valleys as far as the eye can see, holding us captive to the beauty of Tuscany.
Yellow, orange, tan, and apricot-colored villas with clay tile roofs crown many hilltops, standing majestically in time.
Symmetrical rows of carefully pruned grapevines line the hills in orderly array, soaking up the warm afternoon sun.
Dusty green olive trees show their new spring-green leaves amidst the dark green of last season, getting ready to produce new fruit.
Climbing white wisteria and light blue flowers of rosemary bushes scent the air, teasing our senses.
Wild cherries beg to be picked and eaten.
Red poppies stand royally among the roadside weeds.
A dusty toad, caught in freeze-action on the gravel road at night, waits for our car to pass to reclaim his territory. (I entertain my friends by slipping into a roadside ditch trying to take this little hopper’s picture!)
Two ring-tailed pheasants run through tall grass in an olive grove, evading our curious eyes and ready cameras.
Our car’s tires (A Mercedes!) crunch and bounce on the rutted gravel road, leaving a trail of flying dust.
We hum as we try to match the sound of our car’s tires on a short piece of pavement oddly interspersed on the long twisting gravel road that climbs to our hill-top villa: Il Borghetto.
Welcome to Tuscany and an adventure in history, culture, and beauty.
Next: A Villa in Tuscany
The other day I mentioned that serendipity is one of my favorite words. Here is another word I love: vacation. Say it slowly and listen to all of its sounds: va–ca–tion. Lovely.
It sounds even better when you say,”Va-ca-tion be-gins on Fri-day.”
Of course, one could say that I am on vacation all the time since I am retired. But no, that’s not true. Time gets filled up with the essentials of living after you get your official AARP card! How did we do all this before we retired?
This Saturday in Florence, I will meet my sister-in-law, Carol; my niece, Christine; and her friend, Inger. Then we are off to our villa in Positano, Tuscany for a week. The villa is close to San Gimignano, a well-preserved medieval town. We hope to visit San Gimignano at sunset before we retire to recover from jet lag, then visit it again on Sunday.
From Positano we will make day trips to visit various small towns in the region. On one long day trip from our villa, we will explore the Italian Riviera, Pisa, Livorno, and Volterra.
Other towns we plan to visit: Siena, Lucca, Chianti, Montepulciano, and of course, more time in Florence.
In Florence, we will do a bike tour to get our orientation to the city, before spending time over two days to visit the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, the Ponte Vecchio, Galleria dell’Academia to see the statue of David, and any other sites we can work into the schedule. Of course, cafes, market places, and trattorias are on the schedule, too. I’m afraid we will be typical tourists in the sense that we will try to cram in as much as we can see in a short visit.
On Saturday, Carol and I will leave for Rome by train. Christine and Inger will head back to their homes in Norway.
In Rome, we’ll take the hop-on, hop-off bus to get a general orientation to the city, then over the week’s time, we’ll visit the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. We will take a day trip to Pompeii later in the week. Our hotel in Rome, the Hotel Navona, is centrally located in the Piazza Navona.
I am sure we will run out of time before we run out of things to see, but we will do our best to see as much as possible. This will be my third trip to Rome, but I still plan to see all of these sights as a first-timer, with wide eyes and an eagerness to learn everything. I plan to take a lot of pictures for future posts so I can share my experiences with you.
So for now, Ciao. I leave on Friday, April 27. Don’t worry, my posts for X, Y, and Z for the rest of April are
ready almost ready to go. Early May will feature some leftover A to Z posts.
I was going to write about the beautiful purple iris of spring that remind me of my mom, but a serendipity connection with Michael Housewright of The Blissful Adventurer made me change my mind. Michael wrote about his upcoming trip to Italy, and that inspired me to write about my own upcoming two-week trip to Italy.
In early May, I will meet up in Florence, Italy with my sister-in-law Carol, my niece Christine, and her friend Inger-Anne. We will drive down from Florence (the capital city of the Tuscany region) to a villa in Positano, not far from San Gimignano, the well-known medieval walled city. We hope to wander the countryside, take many photographs of incredible scenery, visit several small towns, sample the local fare, and generally see what we can see.
From our villa, Il Cortile del Borgo, we will take day trips to San Gimignano, Pisa, Lucca, Livorno, Volterra, and Sienna. We also plan to spend two days in Florence. I have been to Florence and Rome before, but this is my first time to visit to Tuscany.
At the end of the first week, Christine and Inger-Anne will leave to go back home to Norway, and Carol and I will travel by train to spend a week in Rome.
We are looking forward to this grand adventure, and I plan to share my photographs and experiences on my blog. In the meantime, I am exploring blogs about travel in Italy, reviewing a bit of history, reading a few novels set in Italy, and reading some Italian memoirs. Can’t wait to go! Ciao!
Have you been to Italy? What were some of your favorite places and restaurants?