Italy Through a Golden Eye A Quick Trip with a Tuscan and Umbrian

By Martha Ford,2014-07-11 12:48
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Italy Through a Golden Eye A Quick Trip with a Tuscan and Umbrian ...

     Italy Through a Golden Eye: A Quick Trip with a Tuscan and

    Umbrian Focus

Landing in sun-drenched Italy soothes even the most jet-lagged souls. Cruising down the

    Autostrada and diverting down side roads when the mood strikes is the reward for

    navigating the Milan airport car rental counter and its maze of airport exits. We started to

    unwind when the sunburnt sienna and ochre hues of the impossibly beautiful landscape

    began to unfurl before us: every moment a photo-op, a movie set, but it’s real and just

    keeps on coming.

    My husband and I took

    a ten-day trip to Italy

    this early July and

    packed in enough

    memories and material

    to last a lifetime or

    until our next journey.

    We went with the crazy

    idea of meeting real

    people, learning more

    about why it is we love

    the Italian culinary

    lifestyle, and diving a

    couple of levels back into the distribution foodchain to find some “killer app” (to coin a term from our telecom

    days) ceramics and linens to import back home and sell in our store in Dallas. We fussed,

    roamed the Internet, I actually packed ahead for the first time in my life; all were good

    things to do. However, our experience could not have been engineered in advance; it had

    everything to do with the openness and generosity of the people we met, rather than the

    timelines and trajectories in our itinerary.

Our first stop was Modena, home to real Balsamic vinegar and our first tour of an aceteia

    where glorious barrels of the fumy, fusty, wonderful stuff have stood for centuries,

    silently aging. Acetaia del Christo, run by

    the Barbieri family outside of Italy, melds

    the latest in stainless-steel technology with

    ancient, family-run physical plant. Here

    Gilberto spent an hour or two showing us

    around the various batteria, or rows of

    barrels in which the vinegar is aged, and

    finished us off with a taste of creamy

    Italian gelato topped by a balsamic vinegar

    aged in cherry wood for 12 years. That’s

    right vinegar on ice cream: fabuloso!

The next morning, before moving on, we

    strolled the historic piazza and stopped at

    Guisti’s: a restaurant, a wine cellar, a food shop,

    and a coffee bar. On a friend’s recommendation,

    we met Nano, the owner, who graciously

    showed us around his restaurant (4 tables, 4

    stars, and reservations in advance a foregone

    requirement) and treated us to a cup of espresso.

    Right next door at the military academy students

    marched and trained; an odd juxtaposition with

    the ways of the world that are not so new.

    Next, we settled into Siena, our

    favorite city of the stay. The campo,

    a central open area enclosed with thpalazzos from the 13 century, hums

    with life in the evening (if you’re

    lucky like us, at Midnight, the

    neighborhood winner of the Palio

    parades around the campo, singing,

    drumming, and chanting from

    another age). We went to the

    Wednesday morning market, ogling

    the sensuous reds, yellows, and

    purples of vegetables and fruit;

    trying to look past the poor pig’s

    head perched atop its back as layers of steaming pork was cut in curls and packaged to

    send home. We bought silly stuff, fun linens for the store, and picnicked in the parking

    lot with the spoils.

    Our most memorable Tuscan

    day was spent with “Carolina”

    and “Tomasso” Adair, who live

    most of the year in College

    Station, but we think they find

    their true identity here; in their

    mountain home in Saltino, in

    their olive grove, and in their

    tiny guest house, a former mill

    near Figline Valdarno.

    Carolina, a stranger until a

    week or so prior, spent the day

with us, showed off this beautiful part of the world; from the tiny thumbnail-sized

    hummingbirds to the vast expanse of the Arno Valley below her very own olive grove.

    We saw a family villa that their friend, Daniele, has lovingly restored with authenticity,

    taste, and modern conveniences. (It rents for 1000e a week; the idyll is free.) Then, to

    top it off, Tomasso fixed our first taste of a Tuscan lunch: “simple” but so full of flavor,

    with fresh pesto, zucchini, pasta, bread, wine, vin santo……It was a dream.

    On to Umbria, land of rich clay and sinuous ceramic design. Our fears of “where to find the ceramics” were baseless. All around you, in town after town, Gubbio, Deruta,

    Perugia, Orvieto were stores with windows full of the stuff. Deruta is the mother lode;

    here you find actual people painting plates in each store actual people! Gorgeous canisters, mountainous vases proclaiming “olive oil!” or “limoncello!”… Humble vases,

    rolling plates, oil and vinegar cruets, all became almost commonplace. Almost, until we

    met Luca at Ceramiche Fanny. His

    designs incorporate the traditional

    Deruta elements; the grotesques, the

    almost Arabic motifs, but with bright

    reds, blues, and yellows that put me

    in the mind of the lovely Sistine

    chapel as it was originally painted;

    not muted and mild, but shouting

    with color, dimension, and style. We

    loved the difference, and were in the

    midst of placing our order when we

    met his new friend Sheri, an artist

    with a focus on portraiture, with

    whom he plans to collaborate on new designs. Luca invited us all to lunch, and we again fell under the spell of a seemingly

    interminable Italian afternoon. We had pasta with truffles, sausages, steak, wine, even

    Baci ice cream! The simplicity and honesty of the meal, the talk, the ingredients, brought

    us together.

We wrapped up our tour in lovely Roma: dazzling, but ultimately not engaging. We’re

    home now, and mourn that the recent Italian meal we had at a popular restaurant fell so

    short of the most humble fare in Italy. Here’s what we hope we learned: to love in the

    moment, to live simply, and to taste each drop of life. Here’s what we plan to do: go

    back and delve deeper next year!


    Modena: Acetaia del Christo

     Osteria Giusti, vicolo Squallore 46, Modena. tel: 39-059-222533.

    Siena: Hotel: Best Western Palazzo Dei Priori, Via Montalbuccio Siena

     Italy I-53100 Rooms around 80e/night tel: 39 0577 398701

     Market: Wednesday mornings in the historic district

    Daniele’s Tuscan villa for rental:

Note: We weren’t thrilled with our accommodations in Modena, Orvieto, or Rome. All were clean and

cheap but not worth repeating. The Best Western in Siena was perfect believe it or not!

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