Overheard on . . . the roadside on the outskirts of Florence
Pantomimed directions to Fiesole....
I was reminded today, while unexpectedly driving a stick shift car through the center of Florence, of the journey that Jessica, my main character, takes in Betting Jessica. It may seem there aren't many similarities between flying to Lake Tahoe and driving in Italy.... but there is something about stepping outside my normal comfort zone that has made me appreciate even more what Jessica went through traveling out to Tahoe on her own.
Certainly, hers was a quest... a special journey to win a bet. She had something to prove, to herself and others, and doing it on her own was part of the challenge. I too have felt the need to come back to Italy and revisit places I have used in my second and third novels. Italy has become a reflection of myself as a writer, and being here, on my own, is like my own special quest to connect with that part of me.
But, as I stood by the side of the road in a suburb of Florence watching a very nice Italian try to pantomime directions for finding Fiesole, I was struck by the fact that neither Jessica, nor I could reach our goals without the help of others. Jessica had to learn this in may ways as she pursued her plans to win the bet. As for myself... I can absolutely appreciate that I would probably still be driving around Florence had it not been for the kind help of a stranger.
So, getting lost while driving to Florence and finding myself exactly where I did not want to be, namely the center of Florence in a rental car, seemed like something out of one of my own novels. And just like Jessica, I suppose, in the moment it was stressful to say the least. But I know, looking back it will be one of those aha moments, when I realized that I didn't need to win the bet, or locate the perfect novel setting, to find myself.
Overheard at a Ristorante in Tuscany . . . (July 2011)
It is made by my uncle.......
apparently there is something about Tuscany that forces you to write lyrically.... It may be the wine, or perhaps the moments of beauty, but whatever the reason, I apologize for my change in tone. It can't be helped.
Images of Sna Quirico d'Orcia
A garden, hidden by a stone tunnel. Voices and the clinking of silverware on plates. It is obviously a trattoria.I walk through the town; a dark church where a white ceramic statue of the madonna floats in front of gauzy silver fabric. She glows like an apparation.
My parking ticketn in Chianciano Terme put me off as I began my day, but now I have been put back together again. A store is open past 1:30; it is a miracle. Inside, linens fill shelves, frames and ceramics are everywhere, but my eye is caught by a small pillow, LE Mamme sono angeli in incognito.
A wide grassy area in a park makes me wonder why? There are bleachers... perhaps sports? No, it is for music of course. Today, though, all is quiet, only ghosts crowd around me.
I am drawn back to the trattoria. A table for one? I ask in english. Of course signora, he says. The menu has english translations... oh no! I have chosen wrong. How is it possible? The setting is perfect. A table under an awning, under a tree. A wisteria covered trellis. Everyone around me speaks Italian and smokes.
Wine? I am asked. Soft or hard? Old or new? Full bodied? Ah, this one, he says. I ask, where is it from. He tells me Montepulciano...It is made by his uncle. All is forgiven... I have chosen right after all.
So this is what panzanella looks like. It has more bread than i thought - and cucumber for crunch. I take a picture but its' essence is hidden in 'place'; this place.
Pici is a type of pasta from this area. It sounds like it should be small pieces of something but it is actually more like misformed spaghetti. With pecorino e pepe, it is as close as Italians might get to mac-n-cheese. All creamy and white, the pepper stands out as the queen of the dish.
Now I am done. Should I linger or continue on my journey? The perfect contrast between the dark pink red of the melon and the green of its' rind is compelling, but I think I will pass. A dark cloud is coming our way and I hope to find another place still today.
But no, not yet! First I meet Graciella and Guido as we wait to pay our bill. I take their picture and they take mine. Guido is very interested in my time here. It is a good place for Americans to see, he says. Yes, they should come here. They are from Torrino, it is too built up he thinks. This is what a holiday should be.
The cloud has passed.... probably I will now chase it to Montalcino
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