Saturday, September 20, 2014

to Tuscany

After my third attempt, Eduardo picks up his cell phone. He is my next inn keeper on this trip, though to call il Casselino an inn is not quite right: it's an agri-turismo type place. Meaning the owners convert some rooms and secondary buildings on their working farm to bring in guests (and presumably to up the income a bit). Il Casselino has three such units.
Did you get my email?
Yes, sure, I'll be at the train station to pick you up. Where are you now anyway?
Near Bolzano. (I assume that like Wisconsin, Kurtatsch is not on the radar screen for most people.)
Oh! Lucky you! I wish I were in that region! Anyway, I'll see you later this afternoon. I'll be the old and balding guy in the silver car.

Well, apparently he shares more than a name with Ed.

I'm in an especially chipper mood. It had rained last night and it's as if that rain cleared the remains of my sleeping issues, because for once I cannot complain about being up too late or waking up too early. The world seems in focus again.

(the world outside my window)

And I'm happy to have spent these four nights in the Alto Adige. It was a last add-on for me. I had originally planned on a week in Italy and a week in France and then, in the end, I added days in Italy, took away days from France and threw in Poland for good measure. But these will have been probably my best hiking days and I'm always glad to hand over a good part of a day to exploring by foot interesting villages and natural landscapes.

I'm tempted to eat breakfast outside again. It's still warm! I surely was lucky with the weather. But, it would require a bit of a wait for a table. No, that's okay. I'll sit by the big windows and pretend I'm on a porch.


After, I have time for a short walk. To the vineyards! So you'll have to indulge me -- the last glance at the grapes of the Alto Adige. And a few vignettes from my walk through the village.

(Kurtatsch youngsters)

( a nod to the geranium)

(one more time!)

(a one farmer Saturday market)

(the vines)

(the grapes)

(the glorious vines)

In the course of my stroll, I run into Margaret. Remember her? My gracious vineyard hiking guide? She asks me where I'm going now, after Kurtatsch.
Tuscany, I tell her, feeling a tad like I'm abandoning the 0.8% vineyards in favor of Italy's most famous wine producing region. But she is enthusiastic. Take me with you! -- she says with longing in her voice.

Are Italians in the north dreaming of the south, even as Italians of the south (or at least south of where I am now) are dreaming of the mountains and geraniums and apple orchards in the north?

I had recently reworked my connections to give myself plenty of time. To catch the bus to Ora. There, to wait for the train to Verona. And plenty of time to catch the high speed to Florence. And finally not so much time for the short ride to Pontassieve, but so it goes - it's the last connection and at the end, there'll be a balding, older Eduardo. In his silver car.

As I wait at the Kurtatsch bus stop, one of the typical tractor-trucks comes down the mountain, loaded with apples from the trees I passed on my hike yesterday. There must be some sense of pride to have completed a successful harvest. I have one of those moments of deep satisfaction -- on the farmer's behalf. Whatever happens elsewhere, there will always be the apples. And someone will harvest them and someone else will pack one into a school lunch or bake it into an apple cake and so it will continue. And that's such a good thing.


Alright. Next,  the trains.

(Ora station: different styles of waiting for the train)

On the train ride from Ora to Verona, I watch a guy maybe just a tad younger than me across the aisle, working hard at a scruffy workbook. He looks like he has worked hard all his life. Really hard. And not necessarily on paper work. He catches my eye.
I have to learn this stupid language, he speaks to me in Italian.
Ah, German, I comment, looking down at the title of the workbook. I don't know German.
Neither do I. Twenty years of living in Italy and I was fine with Italian. Now, because I'm in Bolzano, suddenly I need to know German. 
You're not from Italy?
No, South America. 
Really? Where?
Argentina. But now I live here. I like it here much better. 

He launches into complicated rapidly told stories. I have to interrupt him.
Hold on there, I don't speak Italian that well. Slow down!
What's your language?
Well, English to start with.

Nope. Don't know it. Never wanted to go to America or England. I really like it here. It's the culture. It fits with my idea of a good life.

Finally, someone who doesn't want to be elsewhere. I wish him luck as he disembarks to rejoin his family.

Somewhere between Verona and Bologna, the skies mist over with what surely must be drizzle. Weather is less important to me now.  In Tuscany, I can always grab a train into one of the many tempting cities around me. And these are places, for me at least, that will never disappoint. I watch the scenery somewhat dreamy eyed, though not for want of sleep.

And suddenly the terrain is hilly and a little forbidding and the sun is out and I know that I am in Tuscany.


The train changes are all amazingly smooth and punctually at 5, I am in Pontassieve -- a small river town maybe 20 miles east of Florence.

I look for Eduardo in the parking lot. Nothing. I pear into cars trying to discern the level of hair left on any man's head. Nothing.

Just as I'm thinking that this has the potential of quickly unraveling, Eduardo steps out of his big, somewhat banged up silver car.

The unshaven face -- like Ed's. And there the visual similarity ends. To my knowledge, Ed has never worn yellow pants with a loose and airy linen shirt on top.

We drive into the countryside, stopping along the way at the cafe/food store that's closest to Eduardo's property. I knew it was a gamble taking on a country rental without a car, but I hadn't quite figured it was this much of a gamble. Apart from the cafe store, which is 3 km off and in the opposite direction to anything else, the nearest commerce is 4 kilometers away. Eduardo's work (in addition to producing the most aromatic, heavenly olive oil, he is an executive business consultant in Milan -- hence the linen shirt) requires him to be away for most of the week days. Meaning I'll be alone for much of the time on his farm.
Don't worry, just call me in Milan if you have any problems!
I suppose this is the closest I'll ever get to being in charge of an olive farm in Tuscany.

Even so, I refuse to rent a car. Storms coming this week? So what! I can stay indoors. Or go to Florence. Well, after that four kilometer hilly walk to the station.

At the cafe/food store, Eduardo suggests I stock up on foods in case I don't want to go out tonight or any other night. It's tough to stock up not knowing what's at the house, but still, I go for the stalwarts -- Pecorino cheese (so Tuscan!), thinly sliced sausage (so Tuscan!), red wine (so Tuscan!), fruits, bread, a blueberry cake.


I'll give you some eggs from the farm and of course, some of our olive oil, Eduardo tells me as he watches me make my selections.


What else, what else -- better get it now while I am with someone who will drive me, what else, what else do I need at the store -- can't decide. Soda water. Alright, done.

About my home for the next six nights -- it's gorgeous!

(the studio house)

But the rental operation seems to me to be a half hearted game for him. No one else is staying there right now and as I said, no one I know would put up with his confirmation requirements. And I can see that no one has passed through my little kitchen lately. There aren't the telltale signs of humanity. No salt in the cupboard, no dish washing liquid under the sink.

But no matter! The little house is stunning in its simplicity and old Tuscan country vibe. Here, take a look at the entire farmstead:


Too, there is a pool. I tell him I'm ill equipped for that, but he reminds me that after tomorrow, there will be no one around. Ah.

I walk his land, find his cheepers and say hello. The sun has set behind the hills where his cluster of buildings hides behind the Tuscan cypress and a multitude of mature olive trees.

It's a jarring change from the very communal life at the inn in Kurtascth. But, the internet is working (it was spotty in Alto Adige) and the rosemary is abuzz with honey bees. And I'm really not alone. Someone comes in daily to check on things. And, too, if I'm up early, Eduardo tells me I'm likely to encounter a wild boar.
Just don't step between the mama and her babies! -- he warns me.

For supper, I take out the packages from the cafe/grocery store, fry up some eggs and dig in.


Outside, the hill lights twinkle as if in a conspiracy to put on Tuscany's best face toward the world.