Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tuscan Days

The agriturismo we are staying at is in Lavane, about an hour south of Florence. We've rented a 2 unit guesthouse which sits directly under the home of the young farmer, Frederic, who manages it for his parents with his partner Graziella. Across the garden of tomatoes and cactus is the home of our host's parents built out of an old stone church. The bottom of the church also serves as the workshop for Frederic's mother, a ceramicist with a fair amount of notoriety who is away at a show in Paris for most of the week we are there. The property is lined by organic olive groves and we've been given ample amounts of the homemade olive oil to use during our stay. In addition to producing olive oil, Frederic also raises Garfagnine cows, horses, chickens and rabbits.

I realize this sounds pretty idyllic, but the actual situation took a little getting used to. There are three dogs that often spend much of the night circling the perimeter and barking; five cats (a conservative estimate), some of whom seem like they have respiratory issues, which are constantly making themselves at home in our residence; the horses seem thin to the point of making us uncomfortable; it's hot and mosquito laden and I don't think any of us knew that we'd be so close with the family (who have two little girls - ages 4 and 7) and their stuff which is scattered about the yard. Plus, we're a good thirty minutes drive from any of the really good towns or attractions.

And yet we've settled in and relaxed over the week and it has become something kinda special. It does cool down in the evening, we picked up some bug spray and welcomed the cats into the house. I started really appreciating the multiple butterflies that flit about the yard and the small, white bunny that lingers just on the outside of wherever we are. Jacob and I notice the aspects of the house- particularly the exposed wooden beams, brick archways and red floor tiles- that fit with the home we hope to build someday.

Yesterday we were caught off guard by an announcement that it was the child Violetta's fourth birthday and that there would be a dinner in the evening we were invited to - at least that is what we thought we deciphered (Graziella only speaks Italian). After muttering a non-committal response we fretted for a good 20 minutes about how to handle this situation, mostly devising ways to get out of attending and justifying our actions to each other. We had been told that dinner would start after 8:30; while it was entirely possible we could say we had already eaten, we'd have a tough time not being home.

After a day trip to Siena, we found ourselves home at around 6:00. We sat outside in a short-lived thunderstorm that did nothing for the parched earth; drinking wine and watching Vaughn kick the soccer ball with the girls, who were charmingly dressed in matching flamenco dresses that they later flung to the side after getting too hot. Unfortunately, little Violetta took a nasty spill and hit her head on a rock, requiring a visit to the ER for a couple of stitches. Graziella whisked her into town for treatment while we continued to drink wine, listen to Jacob play guitar, and hang up balloons and pictures of our injured birthday girl from the tree branches.

Around 8:30 miscellaneous family members arrived, perhaps 12 in total, all speaking only Italian but smiling broadly in our direction. Shortly thereafter Graziella and Violetta returned and within minutes, dinner was laid out on the long table in front of the house.

In addition to being a farmer, Frederic also has some formal culinary schooling and this was evident in the simple but delicious dishes. They kindly prepared a separate pasta dish without clams for our first course and we enjoyed the roasted rosemary potatoes (skipping the cheese and bread) for the second. The final course was fish cooked over the fire outdoors and while we did not partake, my dad cheekily proclaimed it "the finest moment that fish ever had." Dinner was a solid two hour affair but nearly everyone except us left the table in between course to smoke or just stretch their legs. After much pressure from Graziella's mama, I broke with my veganism and ate a piece of birthday cake (which was lit by two Roman candles), all the while insisting that it was being shared with Jacob to get them to stop offering him cake. I like to think I 'took one for the team' but despite my guilt today, I have to confess it was literally the best cake I had ever had. We stuck around for the champagne toast and then excused ourselves to bed at maybe 11:30 - exhausted and happy.

Tomorrow we are off for a day trip to Assisi.

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