There is an Italian proverb:
“Con la pazienza s’acquista scienza” (translation; Patience acquires science or an ounce of patience is worth a pound of brains).
Both meanings applied, as I sat patiently trying to resist the urge to succumb to my well honed “front seat driving’ abilities.
Finally, we arrived at Volterra having completed the rhythmic dance with fellow motorcyclists, cyclists and vehicles on route, one of which was an ancient model, sea green Fiat 500, driven by a pair of elegantly attired Italians. Oh to be so glamorous!
We decided to park in the Volterra Saline-Pomarance, the railway station located at the base of the cittadina (town). The extra walk up hill would help burn off the prior evenings gnocchi di patate (potato gnocchi) with garlic and Asiago cheese accompanied by a splash of Chianti Reserva.
As I looked skyward, firmly anchored on her mountain top perch, Volterra exuded an air of confidence. I suspect the intact fortified wall which encircles her and protects her like steel armour, adds to this battle ready composure. To be so poised and secure, despite such a challenging history, the gift of time.
Due to a past influenced by Villanovan culture (Bronze Age), Etruscan, Roman, and Florentine rule, Volterra has become an incredibly vibrant culture of artisans surrounded by Etruscan and Roman ruins, as well as medieval structures.
I felt as though I was walking through a history book, as we hung our heads over the stone ramparts above the Roman ruins of Teatro Romano.
Blessed with the riches of minerals; salt, bronze, gold, silver as well as alabaster, Volterra’s location has allowed the residents to elude the modernization of their cittadina (town) and to maintain the valuable medieval atmosphere of yesteryear. I laughed out loud when I read that during a cittadina meeting discussing the introduction of high-speed internet, some residents exclaimed, “The Etruscans didn’t need it — why do we?” Exactly, one can survive without technology.
We enjoyed the slightly steep and calorie burning walk up the hill under a brilliant blue sky, the air was fresh, another enchanting Tuscan day.
School children raced by us as they clamoured to the top of the steps, taking the stone stairs in twos, steadied by their elbows moving back and forth. They were followed by their much “slower” insegnanti (teachers), all the while, two dogs barked and leaped at us from behind the fence to our right. The cani (dogs) were enjoying their vocal workout as they raced to and fro as much as the students enjoyed their high voltage chatter combined with their aerobic workout. I chuckled at the similarities between humans and man’s best friend, perhaps this is why these companions are so well suited?
We entered through the ancient Porta a Selci with the tail end of the student crowd, my fingers grazing the rough surface of the archway as we passed. The Fortrezza Medicea could be seen in the distance, once used to protect the residents now acting as a penitentiary, responsible to protect man from himself, such an imposing structure.
The ancient church of San Pietro in Selci (1005) could be seen in the short distance as we strolled along Via Don Minzoni. The swallows were having a delightful time swooping in and out and between two tufa statues of San Lino and San Giusto by Leonardo Ricciarelli.
The grand baroque facade had visibly eroded, pock marks dotted the sand coloured stones and the unfortunate statue above the doorway was missing his nose with a face that appeared to be crumbling.
The baroque facade seemed to be held vertically in place by two smaller statues and an ornate cross found on its roof line, as though the statues and cross where imaginary clothespins. The sun was warming the stones beneath our feet as we entered through the brown simple wooden door.
I was immediately struck by the emptiness of the church despite the tourists walking by. The musty smell of yesteryear hung heavily in the air, as though we had discovered a damp basement of ancient books.
The white walls were simple yet the painting of the Madonna and Child provided a breathtaking reprieve. We studied the gorgeous paintings by Niccolò Circignani and Francesco Brindi facing each other as they knelt forward from the plaster walls. At that moment, I realized I would never remember all the painters, nor each of the paintings I would see in Italy, just best to live in the momento (moment).
Having enjoyed the solitude of San Pietro in Selci, I lit a candle for my parents before leaving. This simple act used to create such sadness and now it brings me comfort, another gift of time?
The cittadina was brimming with visitors moving in and out of shops and eateries lining the winding medieval alleyways. We entered the magnificent Piazza die Priori and enjoyed looking at the plaques, busts and figures that adorned the walls and corners of the surrounding ancient buildings; Palazzo die Priori (12th century gothic town hall) and Pallazzo Pretoria with its Torre del Porcell named after the stone piglet sitting near the top.
The decorative wrought iron lamps and the one-armed fixture used to tether horses remain so tact and out of touch.
We stopped in a small shop whose brightly coloured oil paintings drew us in like moths to a flame. The owner/artist sold her canvases of local scenes, brilliant large paintings of poppies, sunflowers, Tuscan fields and rolling hills lit up the walls. I inquired about a larger canvas with ruby-red poppies. She expressively demonstrated the details of the paintings, as she swayed back and forth to illustrate how the poppies were blowing in the wind on the day she painted them. She pointed upward to the sun supporting why she had chosen the paint colour. Her passion for her craft was obvious, her paintings were beautiful but, perhaps another time.
White dust wafting from a doorway caught our attention, inside the small store, slightly larger than a double closet, sat a man whose face was partially covered by a paper mask. He was shrouded in a cloud of alabaster dust. He stopped his work as we entered, inviting us with a gesturing hand to look at his alabaster work, while dusting off the alabaster particles from his bare arms. His pieces were sitting on shelves or on his shop floor in various stages of completion.
On his work table was a terra-cotta mold he was in the process of completing. There sat the head of Donald Trump and I pondered the life long link between politics and art. What came first? He relayed in Italian he is doing this mold for a fellow artisan and asked if I thought the capelli (hair) was correct? I suggested a fuller comb over and he is thankful for my feedback.
We looked at his completed work and settled on a medium brown alabaster head of a cinghiale (wild boar). The artist took great pains through hand signals and Italian mixed with englesse (english), to ensure we understood the tusks were hand carved and made of Carrara marble, placed and adhered carefully on the bust. He pointed to his own teeth and pulled down his bottom lip pointing and tapping on his tooth to accentuate his point. One side of the bust remains unfinished, but the effect is that of a cinghiale rising from within the stone.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”.- Michelangelo
I watched two male Spanish teenagers discuss purchasing something for their Madre (mother) and they settled on a small anantra (duck) to take home. How she will love this acknowledgement from her young sons.
My husband cringed as we paid the bill in cash and the bust was named before my feet hit the cobblestones, “IL Primo Gabby”, (the first Gabby) after the artisan Gabria.
On a prior visit my husband had purchased a brown and white alabaster chest set. Our hearing impaired cat Lucy Lila Lou, during one of her nightly prowls, ran through the centre of a proceeding game. The Queen lay broken as we carried her back to Volterra, wrapped in tissue. The shop keeper went into the basement in search of a piece from fifteen years ago ensuring the aged white patina matched perfectly. My husband still enjoys his “other aging Queen”.
We decided it was time for some lunch and weaved through the cobblestone alleyways and headed up Via Giacomo Matteotti. The Osteria L’Incontro was beginning to fill with diners, the rising buzz added to the wonderful atmosphere. We are surrounded by bottles of wine on our left and pastries to our right as we walked past the lengthy display case piled high with pastries, biscotti and cake (pasticcini, biscotti, dolci). I spied my chocolate pizza as I looked around at various travellers with their gastronomic prizes in hand. I suppose I could have the hard almond cookie, Ossi di Morto (Bones of the Dead)?, not today, perhaps another day when I am feeling more macabre.
We ordered the Vino Rossi Di Casa (red house wine) and it is harsh and rough, but goes down perfectly with the array of fresh cheeses and meats we shared from the antipasti plate. The accompanying bread is unusually light for Tuscan bread and goes nicely with the locally made marmellatta (marmalade).
An older local couple sat idle in the corner, heads coming together as they shared a whisper and a chuckle over some wine, I love that. While a younger married couple sitting to our right, texting and reviewing their emails, Hmmm, what is wrong with this picture? I wondered what they will speak about as they’re lives mature?
For dessert we ordered a milk and a dark chocolate pizza for Dolce, we are on our way, letting the wine settle in.
We decided to walk a while and take in the 12th century octagonal Baptistery with its inlaid marble font. We sat enjoying the people watching during this memory making day.
We agreed, a return trip to Volterra this fall remained on the list, as I gently cradled Gabby under my arm, suddenly missing my rambunctious feline.
For today we will continue on to Monteriggioni to see what has changed since our last visit, perhaps take in the sunset over a caffè. The day has gotten away from us?
Until we meet again,
BrainyQuotes. (2001-2017). Michelangeo Quotes (Web Site). Retrieved fromhttps://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/michelange386296.html
Cartwright, M. (2017, February 10). Ancient Volterra. Ancient History Encyclopedia (Web Site). Retrieved from http://www.ancient.eu/Volterra/
Steves, R. (2017). Volterra: Tuscany’s Top Hill Towns (Web Site). Retrieved from: https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/volterra-tuscanys-top-hill-town
Wiki Quotes. (2017, August). Italian Proverbs (Web Site). Retrieved from https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Italian_proverbs