Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 17: San Gimignano

May 17


This house is beautiful. I was taken with it last night, but now I’m in love. It’s set into the side of a steep hill at the convergence of a little stream and a cascading, waterfalling river. There are two terraces, one above the other, with ancient stone patio floors and walls. The house itself is gorgeously old, with every room on a different level, strange doors and ceilings, and windows where you don’t expect them. However, it’s been tidily modernized with good plumbing, great windows. Outside and inside, you can hear the rush of water, and as we came back from our walk last night there was a giant moon rising over this valley, so big I could almost see Maxon waving. I’m so thrilled with the house.

This morning I made breakfast, rolled the children out of bed, and got our Tuscany sight-seeing plans nailed down. Benny took off to explore the town and came back to report 8 times already, and he’s already played his violin quite a bit. We need a bike shop for Dan’s CO2 cartridges, a music shop for Benny’s unraveling A string, a supermarket, and then we’re going to see the cathedral and climb Torre del Mangia in medieval Siena. I am currently sitting on the patio in full sun, my laptop on my knees under the table so I can see the screen, listening to 1000 earnest birds and the endless waterfall and the kids laughing inside the house. Dan is out on his bike. I’m going to take myself over to the hammock and read until he gets back.


As it turned out, Sadie and I both got in the hammock and fell asleep. When Dan got back we spoke sternly to GPS until she found us a bike shop. It was excellent but closed, so we went to the grocery store instead. Our grocery is called Coop. It was excellent in produce, so excellent I almost filled up the cart with pears. In Italy you have to weigh your produce in the produce department and stick on a little thinger that gets printed out from the scale: the registers don’t have scales. So we managed to weigh everything except the watermelon (Benny had to run back and weigh it while we waited at the check-out) and I also got a box of the choicest, most adorable cherry tomatoes.

I realize that it’s very annoying for free-thinking people to have restrictions on pesticides, and I understand that family farms are standing in the way of capitalism and progress and whatnot, however, if people could just walk into a European grocery store – I mean not even a farm market, just a regular old grocery store – and eat a tomato, a pear, a handful of lettuce, and just see the difference, it would be revelatory, I’m sure. Then there’s the milk, guaranteed Italian, right on the label. And the meat, local and properly fed. I’m not saying it’s the only way, I’m just saying that regular, uninteresting stuff like milk, bread, butter, eggs, tomatoes, and lettuce taste a bazillion times better here. It’s not just the fifty kinds of prosciutto and the forty-nine different shades of fresh mozzarella (although those are interesting also) but the tomatoes can just make you almost want to pray. They taste like the ones you grow in your own personal garden and they even have that sharp smell and kind of fuzzy feeling that garden tomatoes legitimately have. Ok, enough fruit rhapsodizing. For today, anyway.

Back to the bike store which was now open. The hours of this bike store are between 4 and 7:30 PM, because of course they are! Dan found everything he needed and we zoomed back to the house to unload the groceries, shove a snack into the children, and head out for our first sight-seeing adventure. Instead of Siena, I decided that it was poetically just to go to a medieval walled city on our first day in Italy, since my plans for a trip to Carcassonne were so cruelly and relentlessly foiled in France. Yes, it was an hour away. No, we would not have time to linger endlessly. But with only five days in Tuscany and knowing how these things go, I wanted to absolutely guarantee I would see San Gimignano before leaving the country. So here we were, on day 1, zipping along through the Tuscan countryside, taking in crazy awesome vistas and zooming up and down crazy ass roads. Benny only stopped to puke once. Another thing I forgot: Dramamine.

From the distance we could see the city rising on a hill, and it was indeed walled and medieval. With towers and everything. We parked, climbed, and entered by one of the gates. Inside was everything I had ever wanted a medieval city to be. It was stone arches, overhanging buildings, cobblestone streets, weird little alleys and byways, strange doorways, and odd windows. Everything was stone. We wandered around for a while, me pinching Dan and squeaking at every little arch and staircase. I was vaguely looking for the Museo della Tortura, for while I had no interest in seeing it and did not want Sadie to see it either, I knew that it would be a real hit with Benny. While Benny and Dan did the torture museum (Dan told me some details from within that made me glad we had stayed without, although I would have liked to see the original Malleus Maleficarum) Sadie and I bought postcards and located a gelato store. There, the kids had their first handmade gelato in Italy. Shortly thereafter, the kids had their first Italian pizza. Benny had his with wild boar salami; Sadie had hers with cheese.

In Benny’s role-playing game, the characters fought a wild boar as one of their first combat experiences, so Benny was delighted to see several wild boar carcasses stuffed and integrated into the décor of the stores and restaurants in San Gimignano. When he saw wild boar on the menu, he had to give it a shot, residual carsickness notwithstanding. Sadie actually ate almost all of her pizza, and I found my spaghetti al pesto with fresh tomatoes completely devastatingly awesome. Plus, they had internet.

Time for the test. Please put the following events in the correct order:

___ A. Take a whole lot of money out of an ATM.

___B. Set out through the darkened streets of a medieval town to find your car, parked in a lot outside the wall.

___C. Pop down a strange, romantic alley on the suggestion of your whimsical wife.

___D. See an amazing full moon rising huge and orange above the distant mountains while standing at the Ponte Panoramica.

___E. Follow several more dark and whimsical turnings, joking that in Midgaard this would be where the Thieves Guild is. Laugh. March up and down steep inclines.

___F. Become entirely lost in a honeycomb of dark, empty alleys.

___G. Find a gate, find yourself on the outside of the walled city in the opposite part from where you parked, and narrowly escape entering some woods on the advice of your whimsical wife.

If you guessed that the events listed above are *already* in the correct chronological order, you are right. We did make it out alive and with neither of the children kidnapped and all of our rent money safe. I am guessing that San Gimignano is quite full and busy during the high tourist season. Just now, there were not that many people there, although we did run into a few other Americans and some Brits. We didn’t find anyone on any of those dark alleys though. At least no one that wanted to chat. I had the best time, being lost and racing around in the dark in this weird, stone, asymmetrical town with its giant towers and crumbling walls. With no one around and all the odd turnings, it was great for the imagination. We eventually found the town center again by following the towers, and on our second attempt we made our way back to the car. I bet Dan as we were leaving that this would be my favorite night of the whole trip. He thinks that I might like Rome too. We’ll see.

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