Happily, I’m in Italy for two months! I’m on a pre-tenure sabbatical this semester and decided a writing retreat, mixed with some travel, would be the perfect way to spend some of this time when I have a break from teaching and am able to focus on research. Here’s my little retreat villa in the Tuscan countryside.
Some people have asked me for pictures and stories of what I see, eat, and drink in Italy, so I’m going to do my best to document some of my experiences here. I’m in Tuscany, to be inspired to write, and to rest, and to savor life. Much of my time is devoted to sitting at a table, on my computer, writing for work. However, I’m also starting my days with glorious mountain (big hill?) hikes, eating as much gelato as I can, and sipping wine while watching the sunset from “my” villa’s yard.
I traveled around northern Italy with my mom and aunt when I first arrived, which I’ll post separately, and am also planning to do some traveling in May. For now, though, I’m hunkered down in a little region called Cortona in Tuscany. I’m staying at a wonderful place through AirBnB, and have the most gracious hosts – Enzo and Mirella. They live in the house just on the other side of the olive trees. They’ve been very kind and generous, and tonight I’ll describe a meal that I enjoyed in their home this past weekend.
Last Saturday morning Enzo rang the doorbell to my apartment at 11am. He wondered if I wanted to go into Cortona with him (I’m staying a few miles outside of Cortona in a smaller village in the Cortona region). On Saturday mornings there is an open-air market in the main piazza in Cortona. Of course, I said yes. Enzo has lived in the Cortona area much of his life, and walking down “main street” of Cortona with him made me feel like I was accompanying a superstar. “Ciao Enzo” echoed repeatedly as many a person knew, and clearly liked, Enzo. We stopped for a cappuccino at his family’s pasticceria (the pic below shows a partially-sipped cappuccino; I wanted to show the “jolly caffe” lettering).
Enzo showed me the market, urging me to taste the freshly roasted pig and the milky pecorino. We bought a few items, and then hopped in the car to go to three more stops – the butcher, the bread shop and the produce shop. Each one the best in the area, Enzo said. No one-stop shopping here. I bought fruit, vegetables, fresh pane, and salsiccia. Then, Enzo said he and his wife would like me to join them for dinner that evening.
I was so honored to be invited into their home. I didn’t take many pictures because I wanted to be present, but did snap a few, with their permission. It was a beautiful evening and a fantastica cena – a fantastic dinner. The sun was setting right in front of us as Enzo, with Mirella’s oversight, grilled the meat outside. When it was ready, we moved inside to the dining room where Enzo poured red wine from a 5 liter jug into a liter pitcher on the table. We started the meal with ribolitta, a traditional Tuscan soup made with vegetables and bread. “Old bread, what’s left at the end of the week.” Enzo drizzled a little olive oil over it as he served the dish. It was creamy, wholesome and delicious, and I ate two bowls because they offered and I did not want to say no, both to be a good guest and because I loved it.
Then, we had a simple salad with local olive oil and local vinegar, made at the produce shop Enzo and I visited earlier in the day. To go with the salad – bread that we bought a few hours prior. Alongside the salad we had beef shoulder (again, just purchased at the butcher a few hours ago) and pork ribs, grilled over coals with fresh thyme. The pork ribs were aggressively flavorful with a biting saltiness that made you want more ribs, and more wine.
Then, Enzo carved thin wedges of the pecorino we purchased at the market and served it with his homemade apple and grape jam. What do you think was next? Chocolate gelato, of course! Enzo offered caffe with the gelato but I’m not yet a real Italian able to handle that kind of caffeine at night. With, and after, gelato we had grappa, a grape based brandy, and limoncello, a lemon liquor – both of which are common after-dinner drinks in Italy.
We talked about food, family, travel and life. Next to Thanksgiving meals, I’ve never eaten so much in one sitting. We laughed a lot, and all language barriers melted away into the night. Una bella sera. A beautiful evening.