We arrived in Tuscany, just as the vibrant red poppies began to blanket the fields outside Pianella. It was as though Jackson Pollack, the famous American abstract artist had taken his brushes and gently flicked paint on the Tuscan fields; brilliant red for the Poppies, vibrant yellow for the Ginestra, just a bit of purple for the wild onions, pure white for the Queen’s Lace and the masterpiece flourished.
The summer fields and gardens of Tuscany were bursting with colore (colour), the rose bushes were in full bloom and the land was vivo (alive) once again.
We were looking forward to spending our primo (first) June and July in our Casale on the Arceno Estate, a heavenly piece of land in the southern Chianti Classico Region of Tuscany.
We opened the chestnut gate leading to the tufa lined pathway which curves to our Casale, we could see that Sergio (the Contradino) had planted all the flowers (hot pink geraniums, pink Mandeville vines) for our welcome; their bright pedal faces tilted skyward enjoying the rising temperatures, their roots firmly ensconced in their cool terra-cotta pots surrounding the terrace.
The lawn had been perfectly manicured and was an emerald-green colour, a contrast to the brown and downtrodden landscape of last year: the effects of a prolonged drought in Tuscany.
We would later compliment Sergio on how the lawn appeared, and he would say; “Buono come i prati di Firenze” (As good as the lawn’s in Florence) and we would all laugh, appreciating the old rivalries that had existed between Siena and Florence.
We chuckled as Sergio relayed the only local event creating a stir, was a few maialini di cinghiale (wild boar piglets) found having a raucous run around Piazza Gorizia, in the nearby hilltop village of Montebenichi. A glorious 16th century gem which remains un trampled by visitors, and whose twinkling lights bid me a Buona Notte (good night) as I close my chestnut shutters for the night.
The wild boars had also created havoc with Sergio’s polli (chicken’s), as he relayed his dismay that the piglets had also gotten into his chicken coop through a small hole at the base of the metal fence, hence stealing the grain. But worst of all, the boars had not been content with just stealing the prized grain, they proceeded to kill all of Sergio’s chickens. “Non sono carnivori” (They are not carnivore’s) he would say, shaking his head in disbelief.
A highly unusual hail storm shocked and literally covered the Tuscan area with “frozen rocks” before our arrival; damaging the leaves of the geraniums and some olive trees which Sergio took time to point out.
An unexpected winter freeze had caused serious damage to the old jasmine vine climbing the stone wall of our neighbours Penny and James Casale. The sweet jasmine scent which had previously lingered outside my kitchen window – was no longer there.
We would later learn this same winter freeze killed an elderly vine owned by Fiocco, our friend living in Montebenichi, as well, a fruit bearing apricot tree of Micheal’s, a new acquaintance in Villa a Sesta. Later, this apricot tree would give us its blessings; as we ate the jam it had helped produced with our cioccolata torte during a magnificent feast consumed in Montebenichi.
One guest would say the ancient terrace where we were feted had “a million dollar view” of the Ambra Valley. And all the guests would agree, the delicious homemade Tuscan food prepared by our hostess, Madre di Fiocco (mother of Fiocco) and served on her brightly painted ceramic dishes, was even more spectacular.
Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. – Voltaire
Sergio spent a great deal of time telling us about the olive trees, the trees were “motto bene” (very good), the winter freeze had caused no damage to our olive trees but other owners and local wine makers had not been so fortunate, loosing many olive trees and grape vines.
Alas our almond trees had failed to flower this year and there would be no almonds to harvest at Villa Montecchio. We were so sad to hear this news, as we had enjoyed the almond harvest with Sergio last October, recalling how we laughed as the almond “bullets” hit us squarely in the forehead as he dislodged them from their perch. My husband has spent nearly a year cracking and enjoying the sweet almonds from our harvest.
We could expect “aspettarsi una buona raccolta delle olive” (a good olive harvest) Sergio said and relayed he had “pregato per gli ulivi” (prayed for the olive trees) during this past Pasqua (Easter). The olive trees in our yard were now flush with small white flowers; a precursor to the olive buds which now laden the olive trees.
David and I both agreed, we would buy a terra-cotta Madonna at our next visit to Cermiche Sbarluzzi (www.sbarluzzi.com), a favourite ceramic and terra-cotta shop outside of Pienza.
We would later place our Madonna above the wooden door of the little house (garden shed), an effort that when combined with Sergio’s prayers; the lands, the vines, olive trees and importantly the ‘good’ people living in Tuscany (both local and from afar) would be watched over.
A special thank you to Sergio who shares his daily wisdom and knowledge about life and the Tuscan land with my husband and I. Grazie, Grazie…….