Safely seated, or having a “prenotazione”, you choose a wine and a pasta, or salad, or soup. The expectation of honest simple combinations of the freshest of ingredients, together with a sip or two of wine, makes the waiting time sublime. Watching the passing parade, you see housewives chatting with neighbors as they meet. You see families with babies on an outing, fathers taking children to lunch; workmen en route home for their main meal. Eating is a major mandatory midday venture for Italians. This is a rhythm you gladly embrace.
Al fresco meals, with warm breezes soothing the art-filled brain, are memorable in their simplicity. You suddenly long for this simplicity, and home you go for a siesta or a read, certain that you are missing very little, since almost everything is “chiuso” from one to four PM.
Fortified at four, you set out for another town, through landscapes made familiar by the memory of the work of countless Sienese artists of the Quattrocento. In various hill towns you wander the shops, for maps and guide books, linens, jewelry, perfume, local products, pottery, shoes, and of course, gelato. Gelatos come in every rainbow color and flavor, limited only by man’s imagination. And gelato is another mandatory daily task, usually around five. And the shopping is more about wanting to take it all home, than about acquisitiveness.
In the fall of the year, there are very few tourists in the small villages of Tuscany. So you will engage with Italians, who will be happy to see you. In fact, most over 65 will once again thank you for liberating them in World War II. (An eighty-ish priest in Arezzo took my hand and kissed it, muttering such words.)
Later, you will return “a casa” to watch the sunset (if you are lucky enough to rent a casa with a view) (and why not?)You might well sip a local vino bianco while doing this.
As the shadows lengthen, you think about preparing your dinner of local ingredients. The Italians still think of food as seasonal, to be eaten at the ripe time of year, and no other. This accentuates the rhythm of daily life, and like the seasons, makes you grateful and expectant all the time. Cooking so simply, in imitation of the Tuscan way, seems not to be a chore at all. Once in a while you’ll want to try a local trattoria for supper.
The evening meal usually ends the day. We had only Italian TV, so we didn’t watch it, and there were no movies, no parties, and no late night drinking. The simple country life is what many of us say we want, and we could do it at home, but we don’t. This forced slow down must feed our souls at a very deep level. We all seem to long for it as deeply as we long for our eternal home.
I was recently with a group of women friends who experienced renting a casa in Southern Tuscany, as we have done before, but this time I won’t tell you exactly where.
Part of the experience is to search for and find your own villa.
My memories of our house include: views of the mountain and the serpentine road lined with Tuscan cypress; roses and rosemary in the garden; a pergola covered in wisteria for our outdoor eating; small villages beckoning on nearby hillsides; our clear pool shimmering down the hill; a jogged old stone wall jutting across our lawn, sheltering our garden; a tile-roofed guest house in front of the pool; Tuscan cypress encircling our house, protecting us, sheltering us from the wind.
There are many ways to rent a villa. Interhome is one. The Parker Company is another. Check those out on the web, and you’ll find many others under “Rentals, Italy.” As an added plus, the Internet is full of photos of rentals, inside and out, so you can get a really good idea of what you might rent.
Do try this kind of vacation as an antidote to modern life, or if recent events have heightened your anxiety. In villas you can live very well, but simply, with very little effort, and for much less than good hotels.
We were in Italy on September 11, far from home. The magnificence of the countryside, the spectacular view from our house, and the simplicity of our surroundings, the complete empathy of the Italian people, and the magnificent churches in which to pray, made the days bearable.
As you can imagine, I highly recommend this form of vacation. Take your family or coerce your best friends. Take an Italian dictionary, and be brave. Corragio!