Chianti Day 3
Trip Start Apr 30, 2012
30Trip End May 29, 2012
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
We arrived at Montepulciano around noon. Parking is always an ordeal in these Tuscan towns since it is both scarce and extremely tight navigating. Once that was accomplished we headed up the steep hill to the town center. Montepulciano is the highest of all the Tuscan towns and its top sits upon big walls and steep streets. We had a picnic lunch at the piazza, which had sculptures of lions to signify Florentine power. We visited the main church, took in the gorgeous views from the edge of the walls, and even stopped for wine tasting of the local style. We bought a bottle but intend to drink it before we leave Italy. The surrounding countryside is especially perfect and made Hsing-ay think of her favorite movie, The Princess Bride. Our greatest moment in Montepulciano was when we happened upon the deep basement under the town center, which has been used for aging giant vats of local wine. These rooms are wonderful and even connect to ancient Etruscan caves. We found them by accident and were the only visitors at the time.
Our next stop was just a few miles west at the smaller hill town of Pienza. Parking was easier and we easily found the main piazza and visited a few churches, local shops, and a Gelateria. Pienza is known for its pecorino and sampled some amazing cheese. The gelato was also first rate.
The driving today was extraordinary. We wandered through several variations of Tuscan landscape and all of the roads were as perfect as could be. I must have stopped 20 times for photos and the only reason I didn't stop more is that there were not enough pullovers. This unending fantastical landscape is one of the main reasons that I really wanted to visit Tuscany. Although the sky was overcast, bursts of sun and dramatic clouds made it even more picturesque. Rolling hills, curving roads, cypress trees, orchards, vineyards, wild fields, old hilltop towns, and blooming flowers were the repeating pattern of our day.
Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore
We hadn’t heard of this abbey till this morning when we passed it randomly online. Yet it turned out to be the highlight of my day. It is a large Benedictine Monastery on a high hilltop not far from Pienza. It is known for an extraordinary set of frescoes depicting the life of St. Benedict (who was pivotal in defining monastic life for Catholic monks). These were really incredible paintings. The rest of the structure is also amazing with a beautiful library, sanctuary, and refectory. Of course there was so much we didn’t get to see because this is a living monastery with monks who make their day-to-day life on these grounds. After we exited the main building we had a fun moment as a 70-year-old monk was totally taken with Kaela and came up to kiss her forehead again and again in front of a tour group.
OK, I’m going to geek-out here for a moment. After touring the grounds, we stayed to attend the 6:15PM service. The monks gather for several services a day and sing through the entire book of psalms each week (a tradition that goes back centuries). In all my life I have always wanted to experience this kind of worship but have never had a real opportunity. These guys sing Gregorian Chant in the old style notation (neumes) and in Latin. This is pure pre-Vatican 2 worship done by Monks who sing it week in and week out their entire lives. Hsing-ay and I learned to read neumes during Music History 1 classes as undergrads. We’ve even taught Kaela the basics of this ancient music notation (we quizzed her on it at a museum in Venice and she aced it). I’ve always loved this notation and this music but have never gotten to hear a real live community use it as their daily worship. It’s an aural tradition that is poorly notated so you must hear it authentically to feel its power. It was beautiful and contemplative. They do use a basic organ bass to help keep the pitch, but these guys had good strong voices and we were moved. We stayed 30-minutes, which was as long as we could probably make Kaela silently listen to Gregorian Chant in Latin. But it was a magical 30 minutes and an experience which brought together my musical and liturgical interests. I thought fondly of all my friends from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and how much they would have loved this worship.
On the way home we drove through some rain and got to see a beautiful rainbow. I did not get it on camera, but it was a beautiful scene.
This morning we heard back from Clark who runs Castle Galeazza. Apparently the earthquake toppled the castle tower which dates back to the 1300s and which we climbed only a week ago. The habitable part of the castle is now a wreck of broken glass, dirt, plaster, and books. It sounds like the castle is beyond repair. We grieve the loss of this special place and are thankful for the people who poured their lives into it to make it so wonderful the past few years. Clark and his crew are in our prayers.