Friday, October 22, 2004


Today finds us happily situated in Cortona. The ‘happily’ is a long story, and wasn't always something we thought we would have! I'll tell the sad story, with the happy ending, in this post.

Yesterday morning we got up early in Arezzo, where we stayed a cheezy cheap hotel. It had the added feature that when one took a shower, the entire bathroom floor flooded about 2 inches deep with water and stayed that way for the rest of the visit - yuk! We have learned a few things about travelling without reservations and trying to find something when arriving in a new place. It works, but it takes a lot of work. In some little towns it is easy and obvious, as there is not so much choice. We have stayed in some lovely places, surprisingly beautiful and commodious. But in bigger towns, such as Arezzo and Cortona, one is often given a long list of possible places to stay and basically the message is 'good luck stranger' and off you go to make your own phone calls, blind or cold calls, hoping to come up with something decent! When you are already tired from climbing up and down a thousand steep stairways, vertical streets, and blind alleyways, it can be devastating - but I digress!

Yesterday in Arezzo, we were first in line at the Piazza San Francesco to visit the incredible frescoes of Piero della Francesca. I remember these from 30+ years ago, and they have since been restored to incredible bright colors, sparkling clarity, and luscious detail. Piero is probably my favorite Italian Renaissance painter, and his portraits still move me. They are so life-like and touching. One sees these beautiful faces every day in the streets of Italy, the descendents of those whose portraits Piero painted so many years ago. Anyway, we were alone with the frescoes for that early part of the morning - what a treat! We left Arezzo soon afterwards and headed down to Cortona, thinking we would come here early, find a room, and then relax for the rest of the day. We had a leisurely lunch in a beautiful little trattoria that was truly a wine cellar, with arched vaulted stone ceilings and stone walls. We ate gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce, grilled eggplants and peppers, and a salad of fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. (By the way, in case I haven't mentioned it, the tomatoes here are incredibly sweet and flavorful. We keep saying to each other every day, at every meal, 'what have we been eating in Santa Cruz all these years??'). Next we set out on a long post-pranzo passegiata (walk) up a killer-steep hill to the top of the city. We were both dripping by the time we reached the top, and we had not seen a single place for rent - unusual. We strolled back down into the town and began in earnest to look for a place. Fortunately I had kept the email address of the place where some Santa Cruz friends stayed the previous April, and had emailed to Sylvia, but had no phone number for her. In short, we looked and looked for places, and were getting nowhere. We saw places that were dark and dank, or small and funky, or too expensive, but we didn't see anything we were willing to rent. Finally we had an email from Sylvia saying that yes, she had something, and giving us a phone number! What happiness! The next challenge was to find a public telephone, not an easy matter as everyone but us uses a cell phone here. We climbed up another 1000 steps and found a phone that was out of order. We climbed in another direction only to find that the phone number we had was incorrect. By then it was about 4 p.m. and this was the time of my colossal meltdown. I began sobbing with frustration. Daniella got us into our rental car and began to drive us out of town, to where she had no idea. I pulled myself together and said, no we must go back to the internet place (another climb) and get the right number. So we went back, climbed up, got the right number, and called Sylvia. Thank goodness she was there. She said she had a beautiful apartment nearby and her boyfriend's mother would come and get us.

Moments later Franca drove up in her little turquoise car, and we followed her down the hill at the back of Cortona to their wonderful little farm, where they had an apartment for us, with a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom all newly remodeled and VERY comfortable. We took it immediately, and plan to stay here for at least 4-5 days to relax, paint, stroll, and enjoy the exquisite views out over the valley from our farm. Last night we were invited to eat dinner with the entire family - the ancient grandparents who have lived there their entire lives, Franca and her husband Valerio, who is an artist and a cycling champion, the only son Francesco and his girlfriend Sylvia (our heroine of the week). There were also 4 Canadians who are staying in a guest house on the property. Franca cooked the entire meal, which we ate at a long table in their home. Bear with me (or delete if you like!): we had 4 kinds of bruschetta, pasta with her homemade sausage and tomato sauce, roasted veal with Italian greens from their garden, salad from their garden, a huge cake (torta della nonna - grandmother's cake), homemade wine, homemade olive oil, homemade vin santo, homemade limoncello, and roasted chestnuts from the trees out in the garden. We looked at Valerio's paintings, laughed and chatted, and then staggered off to bed at about 11 feeling like a couple of stuffed piggies, but very happy. It was a delightful evening and we slept very well in the absolutely silent farmhouse.

Today I have burned some photo CD's, bought some groceries, and will now return to the cottage to join Daniella in doing some water colors. It is a relief to have a place, a place we love, and to just relax!

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