I slid off in the dark of night, only panicked for a moment that Roberto would forget me in the tiny piazza of Mercatale with all my luggage, at an hour not meant for waking. C. and I waited in the landrover for him with the inside lights on.
I hate saying goodbye. As much as I wanted to go home, all I wanted was to stay and have coffee. And lie in the shade of the olive trees. Eating a fat cornetto and pondering life in a language I only pretend to speak until it was time for dinner and a move to the wide open field for a clear view of the moon and stars.
Longing can be a lovely thing.
The taste of a ripe, deep, dark red cherry as it sits on the tongue, ready to be smashed.
Today is the day that the ladies are picked up by the very gracious Pino Teresi and his son Marco to wander through the hills of Montepulciano, Montalcino, Val D’Orcia and Pienza, for adventures in wine and spirit.Â The rain will not stop them.Â I have encouraged them to find food and drink that they love with a passion that burns through all systems of weather, internal, external and otherwise.Â
Here is the daily itinerary of this week for 10 women living at Il Podere in Pereto:
Wake up, walk, or not, have yoga with yoga instructor (a quiet striking man with powerful hands and an impressionable ability to breathe), or not, espresso with hot milk and breakfast, lie in the sun or travel to hilltop town, valley town, cook, laugh, drink, dinner or laugh, drink, and dinner at villa or in the back of a pasticceria, sing, laugh, drink, dance, sleep.
The thing about the road to Montevarchi from Mercatale is that it looks so different at night.Â I nearly guided a two car caravan through a small yet significant tunnel–the only tunnel that passes under the train station in Camucia that was obvious, but not meant for cars at all.Â It would be an unusual mistake in the wide United States, but in Tuscany there are roads intended for all traffic that a hefty chicken walking side by side with another chicken might haveÂ problems with.
We ate last night with Bonci.Â Hardly an interpreter needed, as all jokes are performed.Â There was panzanella, finochiona, pane nero, strutto, pancetta, a caprese salad of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil and the foccaccia-one with olives, one with cherry tomatoes from Sicily, and one with white onion that we watched the beautiful hands of Sig. Bonci, massage into life.Â
Yesterday while I was making dinner, firing up my massive new grill that must have used 16 large logs and 42 small ones, a little lady, pushing eighty,Â came to theÂ door of my kitchen in Pereto, asking me if I would like to buy eggs in the morning.Â This morning she came with the eggs.Â “How much can I give you for them,” I asked her.Â There were 14 eggs.Â “I have to feed my chickens, you know,” she said.Â “It must cost a lot to feed a chicken,” I said.Â To the tune of 9 euro for 14 eggs.Â I had no idea.Â I thought if you lived with chickens out back, the chickensÂ ateÂ the fruit scraps and the vegetable scraps, and maybe corn that seems to grow with abundance in her yard–but I don’t know, maybe they are fed an imported and high tech diet and massaged at dusk and shipped off to the hot springs once a week.
The newest arrival at the house is a barbecue, massive and mediaval looking, and loads of fun, whether we are grilling or not.Â Last night we made my favorite asparagus salad with arugula, olives, soft cooked eggs, arugula and shavings of parmesan, a lasagna with white sauce, ragu seasoned with a Tuscan soffritto and sausages, and ribbons of pasta that we rolled ourselves.Â For dessert we used the fresh sheeps’ milk ricotta that Melchiore made on Wednesday and served it with roasted nespole and reduction of chianti, orange zest and sugar.
The group has a zest for life and for fun that makes cooking, joy.Â TheyÂ also have aÂ patience with the chef that I will be forever grateful for.Â Last night, not so small an edge of a piece of lasagna that I was serving landed in a pitcher ofÂ decanted Barollo. It’s not right that someone should come all the way to Italy, buy themselves a bottle of lovely wine, and have it served with a meat and noodle garnish.Â
It’s not so much the mistakes you make, but what you learn from them.Â Tonight, I will have a special serving section.
Our cooking house as I call it, just outside ofÂ Mercatale sits in the valley like a house on the prairie.Â IÂ am anÂ Italian Anne of Green Gables.Â I walk out the door at dawn, watch the fog rise from the fields, the birds lift from their hiding, and then I march out onto the turned earth to see what has begun to grow.Â I have no idea what the farmer has planted, but I have grand illusions of knowing, as one does before the sun is full.Â
All week has been a weather dream of sun and warm.Â We have been through the whole of Tuscany’s wine region, into the hot springs, over to Deruta, Perugia, back to Cortona, and to the market in Umbertide.Â We have cooked and cooked and cooked some more and I can’t believe that the week is nearly over.Â Tonight before they go, Mr. Scarpaccini will make an appearance for an olive tasting of La Macchia oil.Â I am off to buy the filet from Trabalza, then flowers and chocolates, more wine, Vin Santo, and any tender vegetables that look ripe and ready for a risotto.