Have you ever felt that you’ve been here before, or that this place is special when you arrive or visit a certain place? During my (long) life, I have discovered special places which remain close to my heart to this day. Many I have been able to re-visit occasionally or frequently, but several are far away.
As a child growing up on a farm, I had several special places. I was a dreamer. Having read the wonderful Enid Blyton book ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ I would sit in the branches of a willow tree waiting patiently for a cloud to roll over and whisk me up into the ‘Land-of-Take-What-You-Want,’ or ‘The Land of Birthdays’ or any of the crazy lands. Obviously this never happened, but I spent a great deal of time waiting in that tree, lost in my fantasy world.
I loved the grand gum trees with large branches ideal for perching on, gazing from my bolt hole at the stunning colours of the sky as the sun slowly disappeared beyond the horizon to signal the end of another day. I love sunsets.
Italy holds a very special part of me, I’m not sure why, as I have no Italian ancestry, sadly! I have been fortunate to have visited this wonderful country and its special places seven times and counting! Maybe I can squeeze in another visit when my numbers come up in Lotto, hopefully this week.
Two occasions remain the highlights of my life when my husband agreed to take two months and live in a remote and authentic Italian village where only Italian would be spoken. How ambitious I was in 2011 to book a villa in a tiny hamlet in northern Tuscany, with only limited Italian from Dante Alighieri classes
I located the villa in Luscingnano on Google, owned by an English couple. We negotiated a special price for two months and that was home from September until November 2011. I was ecstatic.
The village was certainly authentic, situated at the end of the mountain road with a population of fifty-seven residents, the youngest was 87 years, the oldest 102 years. It was tiny without a shop or a piazza, plenty of stray cats and crumbling villas but the residents welcomed us with open arms.
Our villa was tiny and cute. Upstairs housed the kitchen, living and a balcony. A very narrow spiral staircase led to the bathroom and two bedrooms downstairs. It was comfortable and had a great character situated inside the stone wall of the village.
We quickly followed our map and visited the nearby villages with shops and bars to orient ourselves. There was NO English spoken, meaning I had to brush up on my Italian quickly. It was great fun visiting the local markets and exploring the region on country roads. As our confidence grew we travelled further afield, enjoying local ‘ristoranti’ and delicious local fare.
Once the locals had overcome their curiosity as to why two Australians with no Italian heritage would live in their village for two months, they welcomed us with open arms and true Italian hospitality. I became their entertainment with my stumbling attempts at their language, but every day I improved and gained more confidence. There was no alternative. Whenever someone approached, Rick would say to me ‘conversation opportunity!’ as he disappeared to safety behind me.
Several of the old ladies waited for me each day, wanting to hear where we had been, what we had eaten. Many of them had barely travelled out of the region. The language was interesting. They spoke with a broad dialect, but with finger pointing and the help of our map, we communicated quite well. They helped me and corrected me with a great deal of hilarity. One day I was attempting to explain that we had been on a very narrow and winding road, but I was telling them about a tight road with wind. They thought it very funny.
To connect with family and friends we travelled twenty kilometres to a larger village called Fivazzano. We had befriended the proprietor Alessandro, who allowed us to use his WIFI. We collected emails and made phone calls whilst enjoying his delicious coffee and brioche. He was a character and loved our visits, helping me with the language.
The eight weeks flew by and there were too many special places to mention. Each day as we returned to our little village, we were pleased to be ‘home.’
We both embraced the easy, uncomplicated lifestyle of the Italians. No television, no phone connection, no timetable, no news. We shopped at local markets twice a week, often finding a dish of delicious tomatoes or a bottle of olive oil on our doorstep. I shared my minestrone soup with our neighbour who was over one hundred years old! My Italian improved to enable me to enjoy conversations with the locals.
I am grateful I was able to experience the simple life with a husband who was an amazing driver. We criss-crossed Italy, exploring many regions, walking the Cinque Terra, spending a week driving south, helping with a local vendemia but it was always wonderful to return to our special place, Luscingnano.
We vowed to return to Italy to experience two months in another village, next time with a piazza and a bar!!
Cheers for now.
Jenny Old AUTHOR
‘Innocent Nurses Abroad’
‘Back of Beyond’ Facebook