Tuscany in the rain

I haven’t written for a while, oh for lots of reasons. Lazy being one major reason.I realized just now that I started a post on Ravenna, but only got as far as a title. I was very tired that night. I did post photos and some comments on Facebook if anyone is interested. Gosh, those mosaics were so awesome!

We took the train from Bologna to Florence on Thursday morning, found the Budget Car Rental office and waited along with lots of other people for a bit more than an hour before we left for our agriturismo in a snappy Fiat 500L. Driving a manual transmission felt awkward for a while, but it came back quickly. Kind of fun, except in slow traffic.

In less than an hour we were in an idyllic courtyard of a working vineyard/farm run by a dynamic woman named Carla. She gave us a tour and explained that straight agriculture is too hard a way to make a living these days, but tourists fill in the gap very nicely! This place, Tenuta di Mensanello, has both rooms and full apartments. We have a room and breakfast and, if we want dinner. We do want dinner!

This morning, after another sumptuous breakfast, I was looking around for some locations to do a bit of watercolor later in the day and discovered one of the apartments which was unoccupied, with the key in the door. Naturally, I walked in and Bill stayed outside.I figured I wasn’t going to trash anything, so who would mind? The place had a living room/dining room/kitchen and 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Nothing fancy, but really livable. You could easily make meals and then one can always choose to eat 3 courses+ dessert for 22 euros right next door!

The sun was out this morning, unlike yesterday. Yesterday , Friday I think, we drove to Siena, about 40 min from here. We found parking and hiked up into the city proper. I had been there once before, but nearly 30 years ago, so it was pretty new to me. Besides, everywhere in Italy, tourism has escalated and become the dominant cultural form.There are highly organized parking lots all outside the city walls proper, with plenty of parking, for a price.

Siena is pretty big, compared to Venice,but the sheer numbers of people in groups, with headphones , in small groups with a guide, or just like us, a couple, was staggering.We began our visit by having a bit of refreshment at a cafe on the Campo plaza. The rain was light at first and the tourists on the Campo were milling about. Then it let loose with bucketloads of water pouring down and the plaza emptied fast. We were under a large umbrella and stayed put. I tried to draw the Campo, but gave up in frustration. As soon as the rain lightened, the crowds moved back in. The Campo, where the annual horse race called “The Palio” is run is large, irregular and the tourists kept getting in the way! then we decided to head for the enormous Gothic style Palazzo Publico to see the frescos and other interior pleasures.

The building itself is a wonder- built in the 14th Century, it was the government center, the City Hall of it’s day. In the manner of the time, the city fathers commissioned frescos, paintings, decorative work on the plaster, the inlaid marble floors and intricately inlaid and carved wooden benches from local and not so local craftspeople. Much of the art is therefore more or less secular. Church and state were firmly intertwined then and so , along with allegories of good and bad government ( fantastic! What images of debauchery! Fields gone fallow, dead bodies in the streets, buildings in collapse!) are huge paintings of Mary, of Jesus and many many biblical scenes. I’ll put some pictures on Facebook.

No photography is allowed inside, but really, without a flash how much harm can e done? I really really loved the image of a knight on horseback at one end of a huge room ( the other held Mary and company, lots of gold). I waited for th guard to wander off and took a few pictures. I noticed another woman trying to do the same thing, so I “spotted” for her and nodded when th guard was away again. Later I chatted with her and discovered that she is a recently retired art history teacher from  Dundee, Scotland.

We thought it was time to go to see the Duomo,or main church and have lunch on the way. Up a steep street we spotted a cute place, with awnings and clear plastic “walls” on a small piazza and walked in . We ordered some, home made pappardelle with a sauce of wild boar ( for me) and fusilli pasta with a caper sauce for Bill- both delicious. And then the rain started trying to drown everyone again! Sitting on one side was a youngish couple from Augsburg, Germany and on the other side a young woman from NY there for a wedding on Saturday. We all hung out and had dessert, and coffee and waited for the heavy rain to let up.

The Duomo is truly amazing. A fantasy of black and white stripes in side and out, with really intricate Gothic style white marble carved into all sorts of shapes on the facade with added shiny gold and red and green marble accents.There is never too much gold or marble in Italy! Inside, the floor is enough to make you keep your eyes on the ground. And, Donatello’s famous “St. John the Baptist” sculpture is in there too,looking really different from the other statuary, with his shaggy hair and shredded clothes. All of the other Saint-types are much better groomed! Lots of people were in there, but it is just huge and has side chapels larger than my house, so it wasn’t too densely occupied in most areas. Visually overwhelming I’d have to say. LIke a lot of dessert.

We skipped the other “must-do”sights and wandered off in the direction of the car, eventually locating the gigantic underground, sort-of, parking structure. On the way home, with traffic and road construction, it felt a bit more familiar than I’d like to feel on vacation, I have to admit.

Today, as I mentioned earlier, it started out sunny and clear. That didn’t last long. We went to see Volterra and then San Gimigiano, each about 20 K from our home base, but we went from one to the other. I had read about Volterra, it’s Etruscan history, the alabaster carving tradition, but I wasn’t prepared for the crowds! In addition to the normal Saturday visitors, there was some kind of car thing going on. Some antique one, some middle aged sports cars, some I don’t know what, were roaring through the narrow streets of Volterrra. We wandered around a bit, decided to skip the museum but went to the rather modest Duomo to look around. Outside in the small plaza was the starting point of the car thing, so inside the church you could hear engines racing, people shouting and horns honking.

Idid enter a small “stampa” studio, shop. Thanks to Barbara Vanderborght I knew that word means fine art printing. Lovely woman there, and I bought 2 small prints. God knows what I’ll do with them, but I wanted to support her and I like them a lot.

We decided to head on to San Gimigiano and have lunch there before checking it out. We got there in about 30 minutes and then spent another 3o mins looking for parking.We had lucked out in Volterra, but here it seemed hopeless.Hunger was driving us and so we decided to leave and find lunch somewhere else and return, or not tomorrow. As it happens with karma, once we decided to leave, on our return pass by the lot, there were at least 10 spaces ( by the digital sign) available! So, we parked and found a pretty decent late lunch of veal scaloppine for me and artichoke risotto for Bill.

As often happens, with food in  our tummies, we had the courage to explore the town. One of our plans had been to attend a concert Sunday evening in San Gimigiano. But the difficulty parking and the hordes of tourists were making us reconsider.

With the help of the tourist office we located the place where the concert will be and learned that we can wait until tomorrow to buy tickets, and make a last minute decision about going or not.

Tourism is the most important industry in much of Italy, certainly true in San Gimigiano – the tourist office woman told us so! Tourists are everywhere we have been, certainly Venice, and Vicenza and Bologna. But I know how to navigate through Venice in ways that avoid most major tourist spots. I know that there are zillions of tourists in Venice at the same time I am there, but I have made my peace with that. It must be difficult for the actual Venetian to live there anyway, what with everything coming in on a boat. And fewer people actually live full time in Venice every year.

It must be acknowledged that tourism brings money into the community and takes away the sense of the community itself. When the inhabitants of a town can no longer walk down the Main Street to shop because of the hordes of tourists, is it still their town? But the money that tourism brings must pay for a lot of the services that people want, clean streets for one. I don’t know the answer. If I had to live on Pier 39, dodging tourists every time I went out of my door, would I stay in San Francisco?

Pray for some sun tomorrow. Bill and I would love to stay around this farm for at least part of the day, to paint in my case, or walk more in Bill’s. If it rains again, there is not good place to “hang out” other than our room, on the bed. We’ll see!





Published in: on September 17, 2016 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

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