The International Writers Magazine: European Travel
Search of Tuscany
had left us claustrophobic and restless. Single-file and shoulder-to-shoulder,
wed toured St. Peters, bearing the heat. We felt like the
coliseum, barely standing after a stampede of tourists had trampled
through. We wanted to leave the city and find a small village.
We wanted to be intoxicated with the wine and the food and the
people and pretend for a while that we merged there too. Our destination
was the vineyards of Tuscany.
Nancy found a car
rental agency in Florence. My traveling companion was successful and
pretty soon, a little car sat before us and an even smaller man dangled
keys in front of me. I couldnt move. It was too easy. I reached,
but hesitated. Was I just to drive out of here? Didnt he want
to keep my passport or know my drivers history? I started to tell
him about my accidents in the United States. The deer had come out of
nowhere and there were only three speeding tickets, not counting the
one the judge dismissed.
"So, I can just drive it?" I asked instead. I pointed at the
tiny two-door vehicle.
"Problem? You want to take train to Siena?" he asked, pulling
the keys back. The thought of getting back on the train turned my stomach.
I pictured myself on the train, squatting above the rocking commode
and hoping I was on target.
"No problem," I grabbed the keys. We shoved our packs in the
back and entered the street.
Our plan was Siena, an hour south of Florence. And anywhere in between
would be fine with us.
We stopped when we saw the signs for a market selling Chianti. At home,
our refrigerator held wine so cheap it came in a box. We felt that we
were one step above Ramen noodle eating college students because we
drank with real wine glasses. Wine in the box was plentiful. Twelve
dollars could last us two weeks. However, San Gimangno sold no wine
in a box. It was the city of towers, the origin of Chianti.
We left our little car nosed to another small European car on a steep
hill facing down from the city. As we walked toward the town, fourteen
towers rose before us. A backcloth of vineyards stretched around the
brown walls. The small streets weaved to the center and turned to open
little markets. Walls protected within and we felt enclosed. Sunlight
streamed in, sneaking past spaces left between towers, creating plays
of light and shade. One moment I reached for my sweater and the next,
began pulling off layers. Reaching for a rubber band to twist the hair
off my sweaty neck, we searched for nearest gelato stand.
We planned to purchase gifts for friends, but Italy was indulgence.
Two hours later, we wandered to the hill; carrying two new weaved baskets.
Every step, twelve wine bottles clinked loudly. We wanted to drink the
A picture was in order. Nancy viewed through the camera while I waved
from the drivers seat. The car purred as it began. I gently released
the parking brake and mistook first gear for reverse. The car shot forward
entangled with the car in front of us. We stood there, unsure of the
next step. Ours was intact; the other dented and scratched. Should we
leave our number? Should we call the car agency?
As we raced away, trying to stay at the same pace of other drivers,
Nancy asked me, "How do you say hit and run in Italian?"
slowed us. Tall red buildings surrounded us. We hesitated in front
of a large hotel, tourists streaming out. Our language could be
heard through the open car window, not Italian. Our stop was short.
Nancy turned to me, "Do you want to stay here?"
"No, do you?"
We tossed our only
map to the back. It lay there half open upon our packs, waving in the
Our decisions became based on villages we couldnt pronounce. Roads
led to hills, weaving through fields of sunflowers. Every angle became
a new perspective. Roads led in circles, but had purpose. They offered
destinations. We were silent; it seemed a world of contrast. Around
us, cars swerved passed. Mopeds slipped in and out. We tried to read
the white blurs stating the miles to Montepulciano, somewhere between
Val dAssoo and Val d Chiana. We had passed the city, long
before we finished reading the sign.
But past the road, the land slowed. Sunflowers turned bright yellow
faces, grinning at the sun. Grapes winked from their branches. A woman
pulled white linen from clotheslines. A toothless man leaned upon his
fence post, brushing sweat from his brow.
We wanted to stay here. A second set of keys dangled before my eyes
and I gave my passport to a short, large man called Caccitiorre. The
room had two beds, draped with blue striped sheets. Our window overlooked
the dirt parking area. Our car sat alone. The hallways echoed with our
Our shower was large, but without curtains. Two windows faced the shower
and I pushed them open, finding no screen. No cars, no people. Fields
of colors of orange and red and yellow, I smiled to think of it. Farms
harvesting colors. The Tuscan breeze drifted in, like a little tune
repeated. I stood in the shower, bare and almost believing that I was
standing in the harvest mix. The water was a baptism, a beginning, and
I pretended I was home.
After the shower, we sat on the veranda. Caccitiorre brought us cappuccinos
and pastries and we watched the market close. The people strode through
following their fixed, slow schedule that was their day. The women called
to one another. Their voices sounding like opera singers warming up.
We listened, forgetting that we couldnt understand. The men sat
outside the bar. Their voices a quartet, all speaking together: the
baritone, soprano, alto, maybe a tenor or two.
The market was broken by the road leading to other towns. Cars raced
along the road, their view a blur of red tiled home. So fast, the drivers
had to wonder if it was only a mirage. It was a strange sight: the slow
movements of the market and the haste of the drivers.
A woman began climbing the steps and a car began passing another along
a steep curve. And I had that fear again, that when I drive in this
country, I will be swept away. That I can never go fast enough, turn
quick enough, never see the sign fast enough and on the other side of
the street, the woman reaches the top of the stairs.
We drove to dinner, following a sign that read, "Bella Vista."
The road became dirt, hugging a small vineyard. Our car brushed branches
of grapes. At the end of the long road, we found a small pizzeria. Outside,
two tables had been pushed together. The party sat, laughing beneath
balloons and signs of "Bon Compliance." As we stepped forward,
the voices stopped. Heads turned and we stood there, feeling like an
extra in a Godfather movie.
One waitress stepped forward and in broken English asked, "Where
are you from?"
"We are from America," I said. She shook her head.
"Yes, yes. Of course. We can tell that." She turned to the
group and began speaking to them. Laughter erupted around us. "Where
are you staying?"
We tried to remember the name of the village, the name of the hotel.
"We followed the sign to Bella Vista," Nancy said. The waitress
nodded. She pulled two chairs out at the long table.
"What kind of wine?" she asked. We laughed, saying white,
white. This was our kind of place. They didnt ask if you wanted
wine, only what kind.
were brought. In the distance, a sun meshed into valleys. We watched
like we were at a performance. A background of crickets sang like
violins warming up. Wine was poured. It sparkled, bursting like
stars in twilight. Dishes were moved for new ones. We tried to listen
to the conversation. They spoke. The Italian words floating, cascading,
and reaching. Broken English merged and Nancy replied in Spanish
and I tried to laugh at the appropriate times. It was an opera of
languages. In a drunken haze, we noticed the cooks and wait staff
joined us. And we ate.
And a glass was
raised, to the ending, the last streak of red. And I wished for an encore
of this Bella Vista. The last dishes lay before us and we laughed quietly
in the darkening night, only stars above us. We hesitated to leave,
too intoxicated to know the way home.
© Laura Wissing April 2005
all rights reserved