When you are in Tuscany there is a precious sense of tranquillità (tranquility) that wraps itself around you and settles deep in the bones, la vita è bella (Life is Beautiful).
I can literally sit for hours looking out the window which overlooks the garden, I never tire of the view. The “couples” cream rope hammock which is strung between two strong olive trees, sways slightly when there is a breeze. The hot pink geraniums fall over each other as they spill from the decorated rectangular terra-cotta pots, while the jasmine vines emit an intoxicating perfume which greets me when I open my doors. The tiny green lizards which grow with each passing day, dart, freeze and dart again as they move about doing their business. They must think they are invisible to the human eye.
The hammock always makes me grin when I think about my husband and I cuddling in the previous “singles” hammock (albeit momentarily) with it breaking from the combined weight. Thus the up size “doubles” replacement. We quickly moved from being mortified, to laughing on the ground and having a thoughtful but fleeting discussion about cutting back on our pasta intake!
It was important to wake up early as we were off to the Arezzo antique market. Ensuring a prompt exodus from the marital bed, David left the chestnut shutters open a crack in the bedroom. I have found retirement to be conducive to over sleeping, il dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing).
The rising sun popped its head through the narrow opening gradually filling the room with natural light, such a tranquil way to wake up. However, to ensure I sprung quickly from bed, David opened both shutters and I had to feel my way to the bathroom. I could hardly see from the sun’s glare!
With maps in hand we left Villa Arceno for Arezzo, a good fifty minute drive. The air was cooling, the sun was beginning to nap and there were a few rain drops appearing.
Given I had a frugal upbringing, I checked for possible free parking outside Arezzo. I found a car park “Pietri” which was conveniently located near Piazza Grande (big square) the medieval site of the antique market.
We parked in one of the two remaining parking spots, thanking the parking angels for looking over us and exited the vehicle. We entered the walled citte (city) through the second archway, dodging visitors and locals taking pictures leaning against the crumbling arches. Babies in strollers, singles, couples, young, old and families were making their pilgrimage to the antique market, there was anticipation in the air.
Given the steep incline to the Citte Centro (city centre), there is an escalator that escorts you to the Duomo (San Donato), the highest point near the city centre of Arezzo.
As we rode the escalator I looked at the colourful artwork painted on the walls and replayed my two previous visits. The purple faux jewel broach the size of my fist – I should have bought, the Asian inspired carpet lost by seconds to a fellow traveller, and on and on I pondered.
As we reached the top of the escalator we quickly made our way to the antique market. The market has been held in Arezzo since 1968 and occurs the first Sunday of every month and the prior Saturday.
The antique market with up to 500 stalls stretches over many piazzas (squares) and heads downhill into alleyways which weave away from the Duomo and Piazza Grande. Arezzo remains a wealthy citta due to the local gold artisans of the past and present that sell their jewellery.
If the Piazza Grande looks familiar, you may have seen it featured in the Oscar-winning film, Life is Beautiful (1997) directed by Roberto Benigni. It was both a memorable and haunting film about finding joy in WWII.
The elegance of Piazza Grande comes from the Mannerist facade noted above the arcades built by Giorgio Vasari, architect (1511-1574) and a son of Arezzo. Vasari also built the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Under the arcades there are vendors selling antique jewellery explaining to potential buyers the origins of each piece, as tourists talk amongst themselves. Cameo’s, rings, necklaces, earrings, hair pins, bracelets abound.
The bartering is rampant and there is literally something for everyone; the art expert, the explorer or simply the interested.
Antique furniture is stacked high with the gorgeous burl wood shining and Art Deco pieces telling a story of a different age and time. The silver tea sets sit elegantly displayed, old and new jewellery mix together and musty side boards are being explored buy a young couple. Perhaps for their first casa (home)?
Skeleton keys both antique and faux, sit lodged between the vintage clothing stall and the vendor selling the china sets surrounded by old cracked paintings. One vendor is selling art deco mirrors that reflect breathtaking hand carved wooden statues a German lady is interested in buying. So much to see.
I stop to look at a table filled with tools and various instruments that I could not identify, my only hope was they were used on the land versus on man or animal! Vendors encourage you to look, talk and touch for the joy of going through the piles and discovering your next treasure. David stopped to help an American lady explain to a vendor what she wanted, was it two or four plates included in the price?
Arezzo was a city heavily damaged during WWII (July 1944) when retreating Nazi forces clashed with British / New Zealand troops in the area surrounding the antique market. War memorabilia is found at many stalls and there was a Nazi snuff-box we saw during a prior visit, I still wonder who owned it. The fierce fighting resulted in the loss of 1266 lives and a citte that needed to be rebuilt. You can still see bullet holes in the walls of some original homes.
The rebuild efforts resulted in Piazza Grande having varying architectural styles and the damaged narrow alleyways being transformed into wider functional alleyways.
Following three hours of exploring, we took a well deserved Italian lunch.
We settled into an Osteria populated with mainly Italians (always a good sign) as they have high expectations for the quality of their food. I appreciated the simple surroundings: wooden chairs and tables; white cloth curtains pinched in the centre; checked table clothes and wine bottles adorning the walls. We were seated in the corner table and a young waiter quickly came by, stating “ I speak a little Inglese”, I chucked and thought “I speak a little Italia” now let the games begin.
The “greeter” was an elegant lady dressed in a beautiful red dress with a matching manicure. She seemed out-of-place in her simple surroundings. She was also serving patrons, letting the plates fall onto the table tops with a “thud”, sometimes looking at the person receiving the dish, other times not. I was enthralled with the controlled yet chaotic atmosfera (atmosphere), no patrons seemed to mind, including ourselves. An accordion player stood in the doorway gently swaying back and forth as he played an old Italian folk song. This added to the ambience and upon completion of his song went table to table seeking a few euro. For some reason he skipped our table and I put my euro back in my purse.
We ordered the very cheap red house wine, 3 euro for a mezzo litro (half litre) and it was harsh and cutting. However, combined with the misti (mixed) plate of cured meats, local cheeses and then fresh home-made pasta with fungi and wild boar sauce, it was Divine.
Prior to our food coming, an American couple were seated next to us. We immediately struck up a conversation and ate, agreeing “technically” we had lunch together. She had purchased a small local monastery and he was a retired boat builder. She was an artist and so the conversation continued. One true enjoyment of travel is meeting different people, enjoying unpretentious and authentic conversations in condensed periods of time.
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” William Butler Yeats, Irish poet.
They both appeared so happy and filled with joy (gioia), then they told us why…they were getting married in Venice in July. They were going to take a gondola ride and it was to be a surprise for their families who would be visiting. We toasted their good fortune, talked about how they met and their plans for their Italian casa. As she walked down the stairs in the Osteria, I thought, she took the stairs like “a bride” elegantly moving in her skirt. Amore!
My husband and I recommenced exploring the market hand in hand, walking up and down the alleyways, eventually landing where we had started at the Duomo. We stumbled upon an American couple, a former peacekeeper and his spouse a teacher we previously met at the La Foce Gardens. We had mentioned the Arezzo antique market and here they were. They were about to enter the San Donato Duomo (named after a saint who lost his head) and were excited to view the fresco of Mary Magdalene by Piero della Francesca (1410-1525) and see the 16th century stained glass window designed by Guillaume de Marcillat. They were having a marvelous trip to Arezzo and so were we.
We took a different route back to our vehicle walking slowly along one of the older alleyways. The uneven stones were beginning to darken from the soft rain that was falling.
I allowed my fingertips to caress the damp stone surface of an older casa and they suddenly dipped into a bullet hole. I thought of Arezzo’s history, the happy couple and then of the Martin Luther King Jr quote, “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
- A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches, by Martin Luther King Jr.,
- One hundred & One Beautiful Small Towns in Italy, by Paolo Lazzarin