Let me see now… I left off and it was going to be Sunday Morning. That was a travel day and we left early, 8 am, and we had a long ride on the bus to Chianti. We stopped only once on the whole 5 hour trip, and a few folks were cranky when we arrived. Soon though, the charm of the Podere Ciona estate won everyone over. It is a beautiful property with views of their vineyards and olive trees, and all the way to Siena. First we had a quick tour through the winery (ok actually first we all used the bathroom, then the tour…) and the smell of cooking food brought us all sniffing to the kitchen. There are 5 Tuscan Mama’s who run the kitchen, and 2 of them are in the states teaching classes right now, so we were with LeLe and Elissa for lunch. Franco poured everyone some of their fabulous wines and the mamas put some antipasti on the table, family style. Bruschetta (fresh tomatoes in olive oil) on toast, and white bean puree on toast with rosemary. Then a bowl of pasta with broccoli for everyone-so fresh and delicious! The secondi, or main course, was a simple roasted chicken with olive oil and rosemary, and lemons stuffed inside, served with caramelized fennel. For dessert a lovely and light tiramisu, made with marsala instead of kahlua, and everyone was so happy. We ate at the kitchen tables, pushed together to fit all 16 of us, and it felt like we were in someone’s home, having a nice family meal. Everyone was relaxed and full and many of us slept the last hour and a half of the drive before arriving at our new home for the next few days.
We got to Parco Fiorito, a beautiful 15th century convent, just outside of Cortona. It was close to 7 when we were getting settled in and enjoying a welcome glass of wine with our host, and it had been a long day of travel so we were all tired. Several folks went into town for dinner, though Mark, Don, Sandy and I decided to stay in and retire a bit early. I have to admit to you that I have been very sick with the worst cold of my life, and I was the worst yesterday with a fever and my second box of tissue in 2 days. I was fairly miserable and slept a lot of the drive, and lunch was so good and made with love that it helped me feel better. Since we are hosting this trip and visiting old friends and new, I am pushing through the disease for the sake of the others, and resting when I can. I was happy to go to bed early. It is so hard to breathe, I have never had a cold go into my bronchials like this, and it feels like I am breathing through mud. I am out of breath just walking across the apartment, which is not large by any standards.
Enough whining! Today I felt better, though still coughing and freakishly out of breath. I got some cough syrup of some sort from the pharmacy and I think it is helping. We went into the city of Cortona and enjoyed the best chicken liver pate (not something I eat anywhere else, this is the really good stuff!) at Il Pozzo. Il Pozzo means ‘the well’ and it is this wonderful shop with hand made paper and stationary, hand blown glass pens with ink wells, hand drawn maps beautifully framed, and art from all ages. It is called ‘The Well’ because when Ivan, the handsome owner, was digging out the floor of his shop, he discovered a well. Upon further investigation and research he learned that this well had been the center of town during the 11th century, and everyone drew their water from it each day. He unearthed this well, put some lights down in it and now it is home to beautiful koi fish that seem to glow with preternatural color. He put a big piece of glass over it and we can watch the fish swim while learning about the history of this ancient city.
Ivan is charming and gracious and we all left his store knowing we had a new favorite haunt, and that we learned the story of Cortona while making a new friend. It was time for exploring and shopping and walking the town, and we were lucky because the rain stopped and the sun came out, just in time. Everyone spread out enjoying the village in her/his own way, and then came back together after a few hours to go the olive pressing plant. This is not a tourist attraction, it is a working business and we are lucky to be able to visit and see how fresh olive oil is made in this community. I was sad to know that Signor Landi passed away last summer, and he was the last one to press the oil in the old way, with stone and mostly by hand. His sons have taken over and brought in new machinery that is not nearly as interesting to see. It is more efficient and saves them time and money, and yet the spirit is not quite the same. Tasting fresh olive oil is fantastic no matter what and I am honored to have been able to see both the old ways and the new.
On the way home we stopped at a little ‘alimentari, or grocery store, and Dolores says it is her favorite stop so far! The grocery stores here are like Whole Foods stores, with fantastic fresh breads, local produce, a deli section that will blow your socks off, and lots of other little necessities, all locally produced. It really is fun to go in there and shop a little!
For dinner tonight we ate at our agriturismo, Parco Fiorito, and our host Roberto grilled steaks on the fire for us. The cows in this region are called Chianina, and they are very large white cows that render exceedingly tender and flavorful meat. We will visit a breeding farm for these cows tomorrow and see where they live with the farmer, Signore Pucci. He was an entire room full of awards for his breeding cows and he is so humble and sweet when we visit him! His farm is a simple affair and again, regular tourists cannot go there, we are just lucky because of Doumina’s contacts and all the hard work she has put in.
I will say goodnight to you for now! If you go in to the cafe for lunch please tell our girls we love them and miss them! Our internet connection has not been strong enough to call them until tonight and now it is too late, as everyone is in bed and I would wake them all up. I will try tomorrow for sure!
Ciao for now!