The Tuscan Sun

Trip Start Jul 03, 2005
Trip End Feb 02, 2006

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

I had clearly had enough of Rome, and a random recommendation was enough to put me in a sunny train bound for Cortona, Tuscany. Location of Francis Mayes' famous travel writing & film (Google it).

This stone town sprawls over the top of a small mountain, its access road winding around and around through zig-zagged olive groves. The view is of unbroken fields stretching towards other towns, across up-and-down hilly countryside that folds around itself and goes on forever.

The Ostello San Marco is a youth hostel at the top of a steep sloping street at the start of town. The climb with a backpack in the Tuscan sun left me in quite an unimpressive state when I arrived gasping at the old monastery building. Worth it - the view from my bed was of the church bells next door, followed by empty space off the mountain over the above-mentioned countryside.

I took a long walk through the town, the small diameter of which is fully compensated for by the street-miles covered vertically. In other words - what a hell of a lot of hills. Think San Francisco on a micro scale. Up down up down around up down through. A main piazza complete with clock tower, a theater, two gelato places. Several small restaurants and touristy artisan shops. Glasswork, silverwork, crafts. A handful of English and Germans 'downshifting' to the country dream and gazing in awe at the quaintness of it all (hi!), and a lot of locals going stoically about their daily tranquility. I walked up and out of the town, climbed the street to a random olive grove and sat down to breathe in the green emptiness of the entire countryside stretching out beneath me. Stunning.

Back in the 'centre', I chose a cafe in the corner of the piazza and took a chair by its open wall entrance, beside two old Italian men. I sat and watched them sit and watch their tiny world go by, calling out greetings to the men, smiling and complimenting the women, ruffling the heads of the little boys. Teasing the young waiter, passing the time gently in their accustomed spot. Amused at the girl with the iced coffee and the silly smile on her face sharing their afternoon.

Sergio, who runs the hostel, laid the long wooden benches for dinner in the evening. We ate and chatted with two French girls, one of whom was celebrating her birthday that day. After the freshest tomato and mozzarella and a sweet bottle of chianti we all went out for ice cream and fresh air. Sat on the piazza steps and watched the town's children expend all their energy in running up and down the staircase, screeching and laughing as they threaded through the whispering couples and chatting families. The other end of the main street was the parade ground for the local youth: tight jeans, flared collars, stillettos, Italian leather. Amazing wine. Warm night. Birthday toasts and mellow conversation. In broken, halting Italian. Well, you can't have perfection.
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