Friday, September 26, 2014

northward bound

I've turned into a sound sleeper in Tuscany. The nights are cool and long and the walking and swimming knock me out.

But I am up before dawn today. (That's not really a brag -- the sun rises over the mountain well after 7.) I want the quiet of the valley and the rich blue of the mountains, the stillness of the olive grows and the dense Tuscan forests to be mine for one last time.

I see that a thick mist has settled into the depths of the Arno valley.


I walk with no great purpose other than to soak it all in. And to let Tuscany register forever within me just as she appears now, this week.

I had a uniquely memorable set of days here. Full of nostalgic runs through Florence, full of quirky details of moving about to work through. I had my own house, my own kitchen, but it was an uncomfortable place in which to cook and eat. A long bench at a long table, a cold stone floor. I preferred in the evenings crawling into bed to warm myself under the thick blankets. Suppers diminished into nothing more than bread, grabbed from the lunch bread basket, and a slab of pecorino cheese from the chunk I bought my first day here. Breakfasts? Well, you know. They were taken late, in Florence.

Would I come back to the olive farm? Who knows. I'd be tempted. The quiet. The beauty of the olive groves. The mountain. The good sleep. The pool. Arezzo to the east, Florence to the west. Discomfort pales when you stack the deck in this way.


My walk takes me through the grove now. I see that they're trimming the trees already.


As I turn toward the forest, a deer scampers across my path. I smile at that. I never saw the wild boar of Tuscany. The summer was so wet that they have plenty of grub in the forest - they don't have to come down to the farmsteads. But I see a deer, of all things. I have no shortage of deer at home.


The farmstead. Let me take a photo of that. There are several clustered buildings - the guest premises and Eduardo's home, and further down, the caretakers's family home.

(the cluster of buildings)

(the main house)

I had asked the caretaker on a ride from the train station if he's lived here long. Fifteen years, he tells me in perfect Italian. Is that long? He's from Rumania, I'm from Poland, we live, by choice away from our ancestral homes. His son, who has lived here most of his 18 years, is leaving to study medicine in England. We shift our definitions of what is home. There's a bond in that.

I turn back toward to my studio house. I'm packed. I wait for the farm caretaker to come up and take me to the station for the 10:10 to Florence.


I have an hour in the Florence before my Milan bound train departs. An hour! Think what you can do in an hour! Even with a rolly suitcase, you can walk a magnificent walk in this beautifully and sunny today city.



You can take selfies in the mirrors of high end store displays.



And admire the way people travel in this city of narrow streets...


And you can go to Paszkowski's. As always, the wait staff there is superb, the coffee prepared with care, the pastries -- delicious.

(If yesterday's patrons seemed to be all female, today, I'm surrounded by Florentine men.)


I have a creme patisserie/ almond croissant and a cappuccino.


...and I think breakfast doesn't have to be long to be special. But it has to be special. It then puts you in a good frame for the rest of the day.

I see that they also sell sandwiches here -- sweet little ones, for just 2 Euros.


I buy the salmon one for the train ride. My meals will be flipped once more: small lunch, big dinner. Time to begin the readjustment.

I walk back to the station. Slowly, I put it behind me: the city, Tuscany.

Time to think of the days ahead.

The train to Milan is prompt, clean, beautiful.


By car, the trip is about 4 hours and, I'm told, some forty Euros in tolls each way, to say nothing of the gas. By train, from Florence it's 1 hour and 40 minutes. The fares vary but if you buy early enough, you'll pay about 40. (Of course, if you pack your car in with five people, the economics shift. But me, I'd still be tempted to sit back in a train car, take out a book or my computer, turn on the music, look out the window and in this case, eat my little sandwich.)

I'm in Milan for only one night. That's about perfect for me -- I have that much patience for the city, though finding a great little hotel just steps away from the Duomo helps me look forward to my overnight here (booked way in advance, the Duca di York gives me a single room with breakfast for 80 Euro and it's a pretty little room; well, it is after I came down with a sad face after inspecting the ugly little room I got at first try.)

It is my last day in Italy. I don't know why this country makes me swell with nostalgia (not melancholy!), but it does. Is it because I broke with Poland via its musical language and Mediterranean take on food, and life? (I used to come to Italy much more often than to France.) Or is it because Ed never warmed to it, not in Sicily, not in Sardinia, not in Puglia, not in Liguria, not in Tuscany, not even in Venice --  and so it remains deeply my own?

It strikes me that the last several paragraphs, written on the train to Milan, sound very defeatist. Why am I writing that I cannot get excited about this city? Perhaps I haven't looked hard enough?

When the olive farm caretaker drove me this morning to the station, I remarked how I didn't love Milan. He considers this. He goes there frequently -- delivering olive oils to restaurants, taking care of some of the details for Eduardo. He tells me now -- you know, you like the Fortress in Firenze. Have you walked through the Castello-fortress in Milan? Of course there are also the Duomo, the galleries...

He speaks gently of these, as if they are a treasure.

Me, I just haven't been able to shake the sternness of the city. Harsh architecture. It isn't full of tourists (except the Duomo Square), but it's a stressed place. If there is a joie de vivre, I haven't seen it.


But I don't know the Castello...

It comes with a large park...

I love city parks! They are, in my mind, the greatest gift to people trapped in an urban setting. And I have, over the years, neglected looking for Milan's green space.

I go there today.

It's late, of course. The sunlight is mellow now, just a tad faded. Beautiful. The Castello park (Parco Sempione) is far less popular than a Parisian green space would be, but it nonetheless is enchanting! For lovers. For babies. For friends. For solo travelers like me.







Slowly, I am refreshed. And as I leave, I think -- day is young! (It isn't really. It's after 5.) What luck -- here's a museum, let me go inside!

It's the Pinacoteca di Brera -- Italy's first public museum (opened in 1803), certainly Milan's best art collection. I go in.

The art here is complemented this month  by a photography exhibit and the photos are of the museum and integrated into the existing exhibition halls, so that it's a show within a show and mine is the show that is outside of it all, looking it.



But the main focus are the paintings. Centuries of art. (And not very many visitors.)

(Modigliani, Bonnard)




I'll include a photo of an art student -- they hang out in the courtyard in packs...


And another selfie!


After, it's just a short walk, through sophisticated streets, past sophisticated shops and past  uber sophisticated people...




....back to the Duomo...


And just before my hotel, I stop at a fairly new ice cream place that boasts a full pledge and devotion to quality ingredients. (To the point where you're almost told what nut was picked by what hand in which place and in what loving way.) Why not.  A predinner treat. Pistachio! I ask for the smallest portion and as he begins filling the cup, I tell him -- stop, that's enough! As in Florence, this request to not fill the cone or cup really is disquieting to them. And as in Florence, he refuses to take full payment for it.  And truly, the ads don't oversell it -- it's a wonderful ice cream and oddly color matched to the interior.


Dinner? Oh, I eat around the corner. Osteria Milanese. It never astonishes, but, too, it rarely disappoints and the prices are okay. If anything, the dishes seem too traditional Milanese, but I'm alone and I don't really want to eat in big ways in this relatively expensive city.

I order the risotto milanese, then a plateful of steamed artichoke hearts and, because I seem to veer toward nostalgia lately -- veal scallopini Marsala -- the first "grown up" dish I ever made for "company" when I was in my young twenties. (I stopped making it when I realized -- who knew?? -- that Americans aren't really  great consumers of veal scallopini, so what I could get at the meat counter of a grocery store was inevitably wretched.)

 Night time. Tomorrow, I'm up and out, heading even more toward the north.