Tuesday, October 26, 2004


It is Tuesday here in Italy and we are once again on the road, and as usual thinking of all our loved ones at home. Hard to believe that this fabulous trip is coming to an end very soon. What a continuous pleasure and delight it has all been. Here is the latest in the ongoing adventures of two crazy ladies on the loose in a foreign land!

First of all, we had a heart wrenching departure from Cortona, including a small calamity which Daniella will be writing about so I will only touch on it! On Sunday evening, Franca and Valerio came down to our little apartment and said their very affectionate goodbyes. In the several days of staying at their little farm villa, we had become very attached to them. We had wonderful long conversations about art, about the differences in our languages and country, about our families, about how the agricultural culture of Italy is changing as the old farmers die out, about food and wine and oil, about the history and culture of Cortona and so much more. We had wandered all over their property and beyond, taken their photos, eaten meals together, watched each other paint - and so when we had to leave, there was genuine sadness on both sides. We exchanged addresses, phone numbers, invitations to visit us in the US, and long hugs.

The next morning they were both gone early, so we did not see them again, but the old grandparents were hanging around waiting to say goodbye. Daniella plans to write the story she calls "Flat on my back with Ringo", so you'll have to wait for the details, but in a nutshell, we inadvertently let the dog out of his cage and he ran off, and we and the grandparents had a hell of a time getting him back again. Daniella's story of this misadventure is priceless and worth the wait!

We drove off into the hills again heading for Lazio, but most of the day we were in Southern Tuscany, driving through one magnificent hill-town after another: Montepulciano (spectacular), Pittigliano, Orvieto (an old favorite), and countless others, each seeming more fabulous than the one before. Here in the more southern areas, the hill towns tend to be built on a spur of tufo rock that stands up out of the landscape like a giant wedding cake with a fairy tale castle and village on top. Hopefully our photos will convey some of the splendor and magic of these historic towns. In each of them, there is always a giant central plaza with the cathedral and several palazzi all around it, and always there are narrow streets that are really long winding stairways. There are seldom any cars because the streets are much too narrow and they are also full of people strolling, chatting, peeling vegetables, selling things, a very active community life in every town.

We stopped yesterday afternoon at a place called Saturnia, where we were aiming to go, having seen photos in a guide book of their natural hot springs. We had reserved a room in a delightful little inn, which turned out to be one of the prettier places we stayed. The room was beautiful, with a commodious bathroom and even a private throne across from the bed (we don't know what that was about!). Best of all, there was a balcony over their garden, looking out onto a wonderful spilling landscape of rolling fields, woods, olive groves, and distant hills. We were high enough up that we could watch the birds flying by at eye level, magpies and swallows zipping along merrily. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and drove down the road to the "terme" which we had seen on the road coming into town.

The hot springs are fed by a huge gushing jet of hot water that bursts out of the earth in about three places, creating a massive waterfall that cascades down over what has become a series of tiered stone basins that lie beneath the spray. It is a completely natural place, but has the feeling that someone (god?) sculpted a set of cascading bowls into the hillside and then filled them with warm rushing water. Small waterfalls drop over the edges of each bowl, creating places to sit and get a neck or back massage from the streaming spa water. The place had probably 40-50 people of all ages soaking in the water, with plenty of room for more. There was an old man near us who was nearly submerged except for his wizened face blissfully above the water level as the springs coursed over his bald pate - he didn't leave that spot for the nearly 2 hours that we were there soaking, and I began to fear that his rump was stuck to the bottom of the pool. If he hadn't looked so completely in ecstasy I might have asked if he needed help. Anyway, we soaked, we chatted, we absolutely loved it. And for Daniella, after being "flat on her back with Ringo", it was the perfect prescription for getting rid of those nagging aches and bruises!

We had a recommendation for a great restaurant (Due Cipi da Michele) and went there for dinner. We were stunned to have one of the most fantastic and memorable meals of the trip last evening. We began with a simple bruschetta al pomodoro (toast with tomatoes and olive oil) that was somehow seasoned to breathtaking perfection. Next we both ordered tortelli, which are kind of like large hand-made ravioli. One dish was stuffed with chestnuts in a sauce of butter and fennel seeds - divine. The other tortelli were stuffed with creamy pumpkin, in a sauce of butter and chopped mint. By this time we were in a swoon. Next we ordered a traditional Tuscan dish, "aquacotta" - literally cooked water - which turned out to be a magnificent vegetable soup/stew served over a slab of bread with a fried egg on top, so delicious we could not believe it. Finally we had a large order of broccoli (we are hungry for green things) that was cooked with olive oil and red pepper flakes, also very beautifully prepared. We were doing so well, we decided to try a dessert and ordered a chestnut pudding covered with a sauce of pureed persimmons that must have had some kind of sweet wine added. It was great, but we were too full to do it justice.... allora!

This morning we took a long walk down a very country road that ended up at a little farm. It is a gorgeous sunny day here and everything was sparkling in the sunlight. At the moment we have driven to the next town called Manciano and we are heading over to the coast and down to Tarquinia to look at some Etruscan tombs. Tomorrow we will visit my old friends in Mazzano-Romano, and I'm very excited about it.

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