My Love Affair With Italy
My love affair with Italy only intensified following three more opera extravaganzas with Opera Australia and Continuing Education with Sydney University. My, that sounds very upper class, but I remained the novice who loved the experience and the music (mostly!)
The next step for me was to learn the language leading me to Dante Alighieri School on the Gold Coast. I booked in for Beginners Class in early 2010 and have continued to learn and love this beautiful language with a close-knit group of friends who also share a love affair with Italy.
I yearned to return to the country I loved. How fortunate am I that my dear husband, who is not gifted in the language department, offered me an opportunity to spend two months living in an authentic village, way off the tourist trail. This offer accumulated a great deal of ‘brownie points’ for him.
I googled ‘authentic, remote village’ in Italy. One day, I received a reply in my inbox, from an English couple, offering their villa in a tiny village called Luscignano situated in the Apuene Alps in northern Tuscany.( as opposed to Lucignano which is a larger village, also in Tuscany). This tiny hamlet had a population of 57 residents, the youngest being 87 and the oldest 105 years of age! I continued to correspond with the owners of the villa who finally offered me excellent rates for two months.
Several months later, a very excited pair made their way up extremely narrow and high mountain roads, finally arriving at Luscignano. With a few incorrect turns we found the spot to park our car, very close to a sheer cliff. Bumping our suitcases along the cobbled pathway and up some wobbly stone steps we found our front door. It was not mentioned in the blurb that our ‘villa’ was the inside of the village wall! There were two levels with a very steep and narrow spiral staircase downstairs to the two bedrooms and bathroom. A tiny balcony offered a superb view of the mountains and our neighbours vegetable garden. We could just fit two plastic chairs alongside each-other. I was ecstatic, I was in Italy, we had eight weeks to explore. I would have been happy in a cave.
We unpacked and walked outside to explore the village. It was very quiet and there were many houses uninhabited and crumbling, but the inhabited homes had delightful gardens with flowers, geraniums and grapevines and abundant vegetables growing. There were no shops or a piazza but a lovely church which we tried to enter. An elderly man appeared and said,
‘La Chiesa e’ chiusa.’ (The church is closed)
I was elated because this was one of the phrases we had learnt in our first class. However, it all went downhill from there. I should have realised that a broad dialect would be spoken in this remote village. I had difficulty understanding with only eighteen months of classes to fall back on. However, I did have my trusty phrase book and dictionary.
Each day we drove out to explore different country roads and villages. There were many points of interest and we loved to follow our nose, find a restaurant for lunch, then set the GPS for home. This did not always go according to plan, but the result was always interesting.
In the countryside away from the tourist sites, everything was so cheap. The restaurants we found were a family affair serving the locals. Mostly the food just appeared with whatever the cook, mostly Mumma, had prepared for the day. A carafe of wine arrived at the table and the food followed, sometimes up to five courses, especially on the weekend. We were in heaven and I found I was able to practice my Italian as we travelled from place to place. The best practice was at the local markets, of which there were many.
By the time we were due to depart we had made friends with the locals who were fascinated by us. I had to report on our daily travels in the evening as the ladies sat on their plastic chairs to laugh at my awful grammar and try to understand where we had been. I would take our large map and show them as most had barely been out of the village. We were invited into their homes and offered food, wine and the strongest black coffee I have ever tasted. We were given tomatoes, wine, fruit and vegetables. I, in turn, would make minestrone soup and take it to the oldies. We were part of their community.
It was a very sad day when we drove out of Luscignano for the final time. We hugged and shed tears as I knew I would never see these dear people again.
My love affair with Italy continues with more adventures to come.
Until then, stay safe.
‘Arreverderci alla prossima volta’ (Goodbye until next time)
Jenny Old AUTHOR
‘Innocent Nurses Abroad’
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