Monday, April 25, 2016

Over-scheduled even in Italy - but lots to show for it

I am not complaining, but I did notice that I felt over-scheduled by the Friday. I just wanted to be lazy, drink my cappuccino slowly, stay in my slippers and then get lost in Florence uncovering antiques and fabrics. But we had 4 days of tours scheduled....I had once heard one of guests say that he LOVED the tours - and I now see he is a man with a great strong mind and loves the learning. It suits him. I am suited for slower, lazier days.

But....the tours were magnificent and as one the statue of Fortuna in Villa La Pietra implied and another friend pointed out, the week was less about chronos time than Kairos time. Chronos, of course is measured time, the root of chronology. It is seconds, minutes, days, years, a life, then a death. Kairos time is made of magic. It is made of moments, opportunities, a fruit that is perfectly ripe for the picking, a synchronicity (well, there's that root word again!) a blessing. It may, of course, be some shadowy version too, wrong place / wrong time. But this week felt full of the former - a week which went by quickly, but seemed full of magic and mystery and ah-ha moments that changed us. Changed me, certainly.

On the second day of the garden tours, we started at La Pietra, just a mile from Florence and the villa that was owned by Arthur Acton, an antique dealing Englishman and his wife, Hortense Mitchell, an heiress from a Chicago banking family whom he likely married for her money and status, all the while having a passionate affair with another woman, all very juicy and laid out diary-style in the book My Mother, My Father and His Wife Hortense  written by the granddaughter of the paramour. And, Grandma was a massively sexually liberated woman for her time or the writer has taken grand poetic license to make the book all the more juicy.

The highlight of the week for me were the interiors of La Pietra, left as they were when son Harold Acton died in 1994 - and left the way they had been before that for years. The will states that nothing can be removed, so there is a bottle of rubber cement still sitting at the desk in the Library! But the furnishings and art and accessories and wall coverings and fabrics almost made me weep. There is great emphasis on the Renaissance period, but Acton (the elder) had the most amazing eclectic taste - perhaps the first to display that? He arranged things with humor, with repetition, by theme and I felt at the end that everyone studying interior design has to see this home! It is the most perfect lesson in color study, texture, scale, pattern, the use of antiques both fine and common and all with an appreciation for beauty that surpasses anything I have seen before. Sadly, we couldn't take photos.
I'm just dying to get in there with a camera!

But where I could take photos, I will share them with you here....Villa La Pietra is a favorite of mine - for all the drama and romance and love of beauty for which it was created. Then, on Saturday, I spent the rainy day jumping puddles over the stones of Florence seeking refuge in restaurants, antique shops and cafes.

Villa La Pietra - NYU Florence Campus. Could you go to class here?

Limonaia at Castello. I just love the citrus trees!
Richard Ginori Porcelain Shop. Seriously, I wanted a lot of this.
Ridiculous antique shops. I wanted pretty much everything here, too.
Add caption

Country style.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Gardens above Florence and that great concept: OTIUM

Cosimo di Medici (admitting we ALMOST named our pup after him) built the first "cabin" in the Western world. Of course it was a villa and it was near Florence. It served one purpose. Otium, a Latin word meaning something like the following:

A time and place for leisure, rest, communing with nature, reading, writing, engaging in  conversation, thought, philosophy, poetry, music. Today we might add meditation - though otium is a bit of an active meditation, it seems.

Cosimo di Medici states: "I don't come here to till the soil. I come here to till my soul." This was the purpose of the Villa Medici, built around 1460 on the hillside in Fiesole, overlooking Florence. This is where we went today - then on to 2 other villas, with notes about each here below!

But first , we started at Gamberaia, the garden that Edith Wharton described as "the most beautiful garden in Italy." I might argue that Le Balze, a 1910 interpretation of a Renaissance villa tops it. But we'll let you see what you think. from Gamberaia. Tomorrow...from the other villas.

I realize as I sit here in this palazzo in Florence writing this post that I, too, am engaged in otium. 

Allee to Gamberaia in Settignano

Amazing cool cupboard with chicken wire and curtains covering contents.

Bedroom at Gamberaia. 

View from the House

Another lovely bedroom!

The garden from the loggia. I want a loggia. Even more than a garden!

View of Florence from the Piano Nobile

Piano Nobile -Living Room on what we know as the second floor. Amazing! No rugs....hmmmm...

Library with shelving and doors in brass chicken wire. Well, why do I think the Italians don't call it chicken wire?

The house from the garden - through a green window. 

The limonaia - the building where they store the citrus plants during the winter to protect from freezing.

Banksiae Rose

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Brain dead for words, but got it in images - arriving in Firenze

The (beloved) Arno. From Santa Trinita - our kissing bridge.

I love this place. But a bit  So funny to be so relaxed now, after 6-7 visits....we just feel at home. I LOVE coming to a place where I can get right to where I want to go, to hit the ground feeling solid and ready and confident. And that is Florence now. Good thing! We are "entertaining" 4 guests from the US starting tomorrow! For now...just some images from the day. Thanks for hanging out here. Ciao!

Of course, this is Il Duomo with the dome...Giotto's bell tower and the Baptistery in the front left.
How did all this brilliance land in one place at one time?

Ghiberti's Doors of Paradise (well, a copy) Originals in museum behind Il Duomo.
Said to have been the official beginning of the Renaissance. 1401.

Home in Firenze - Palazzo Ginori. In the same family since 1500. 

Our apartment for a week - Nonna in Palazzo Ginori. How sweet is this?

I'm skeptical of new places in Firenze, but there is a new restaurant / shop / bar / flower shop across the street - all
rolled into one. Kind of reminds me of ABC in New York. Ran across the street to pick up flowers for the apartment when we settled in. Really charming!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Saying Good bye to Querceto. Best trip ever.

We're planning how to take the castle over and become squatters. Seems easy with that tower.
Terrace for a smoke. :-)
Morning at the bar - with locals and their babies

Unretouched photo! I love the birds here....this is at sunset
with the lavender sky reflecting on the windows and wall.
Goodnight Tuscan hills. Sleep tight.

Food and Wine

Satisfying canellini bean starter with fried proscuitto came gratis.
Served with soft bread soaked in olive oil.
Don't you love the little yin yang bowls?

We all know that the Italians take their food and wine very seriously. An Italian started the Slow Food movement in 1986 outside a McDonald's in Rome hoping to stem the tide of "faux food", protecting the rights of farmers and consumers to real food grown by real people, then officially signed the manifest in Paris in 1989. Well, we seem to have dropped into the thick of it here at Querceto in Tuscany. So today I will write about food and wine. Two of my favorite things!

At our arrival we were told that there is a nice restaurant "in the village" which means on the castle property. In fact it is across a "street" from us - maybe 100 feet. We heard a bit on the expensive side, and heavily Tuscan, meaning heavy in game and meat. On Wednesday morning, while having our cappuccino on the terrace we watched the delivery of fresh vegetables and a young slim man taking the wooden box of them into the restaurant. This looked promising, we thought.

Locanda Del Sole

At 2:00 we realized we had eaten nothing but Taralli, those cute little round things tasting rather like a delicious breadstick. And even better with olive oil poured over them. I had eaten no less than handfuls. We had taken a three mile hike up the mountain to another farm (agriturismo property) and was hungry as a Tuscan boar.

We took a seat outside and a lovely young woman who spoke very little English (why should she?) set a beautiful white cloth and napkins on the table and handed us a well-edited menu (always my preference.) It was entirely in Italian, and even though I can generally get buy, I don't know all the foods in Italian. There was only one other man dining and the waitress employed him to serve as translator for us. As much of the menu was serving the local taste for wild meat, I snatched the first thing on the menu that had something fish-like in it! A fettucine with vegetables and anchovy. But our translator said if we liked a beef carpaccio, theirs was the best around and very very fresh and local. Well, you would want that with your raw beef right? So I said, speaking for us, in my very best Italian. We'll have the Vermentino wine and the carpaccio to start. Lee then pointed to the ravioli with wild hare and I played it safe with the pasta.

Shortly thereafter, the waitress arrived with a bottle of Vermentino, the white wine produced by the family who owns the castle. Now Lee doesn't really drink wine. I meant a couple of glasses of it, one each, but when the bottle arrived, it was clear we would be drinking for lunch. It was so fresh and light and perfect with the white beans and proscuitto which we inhaled, a gift from the chef. Then the carpaccio came. Once again, she brought us EACH an order instead of the one I imagined sharing. The site of a patty of raw beef on my plate made me want to crank up my Bertazzoni range and slap the patty on a griddle for cooking, but as the presentation was so lovely and the praise for the dish so heightened, I decided to dig in. It was very very good. My veggie daughter Isabelle would have left the table. We found the quality and freshness to be the best we've had.
Beef Carpaccio with Homemade Mayonnaise, Red Onion and Local Olive

Lee's roasted deer. We were quite adventurous here for our meals.

We didn't know much about Locanda Del Sole, the restaurant in the village of Querceto (really, it's just the castle itself and whatever buildings are tied to that.)  But after 3 meals there in 2 days, we've learned a great deal more....about how and why this high quality, beautifully presented food with about 2-3 tables of guests per night even exists here at Querceto. Will write about that tomorrow!

On to the topic of vino...
In the late 1990s the Ginori Lisci family began to grow grapes and olive trees and produce wine and oil. In 2013, they switched to organic farming and currently recycle even the plant materials in the process. We met with Fabiola yesterday for a wine tasting at 6:00, stumbling there after a late afternoon nap.

Wine tasting at Querceto - Ginori Lisci wines -
count'em five glasses each!
We were alone in the "dispensa" with Fabiola who introduced tastings of the five Ginori-Lisci wines, from the white Vermentino to the deepest red Castello. For someone who has consumed massive amounts of red wine over the years, I know surprisingly little about it! I'm just a "If its red, I'll drink it" kind of gal. Well, now I know how much work it is to produce wine. They LOVE wine. They LOVE their grapes and their farmers and their plants and the soil and the land and the climate. And they are worried about the changing climate. Winter was very mild and spring is very early this year. What to make of that? All of this can change the quality of the wine.

It was such a treat to have this little class on Italian wine....have to share this photo. Lee thinks it pretty much says it all about me and wine.

Vineyard up the hill from Querceto is our daily 5K walk.

Tomorrow I'll tell you the connect between Locanda Del Sole at Querceto and this photo of the sea.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tuscany - grab a glass of wine .... there's a lot to catch up on here.

Castello Ginori di Querceto, a Medieval "village" in Tuscany.
Pretty much exactly as you might imagine. Took this photo on our walk today.
How did we find this place???? Read on!
Old habits die hard. I ran into a neighbor at 510 last week, mentioned our trip and Annie said, "Oh, please blog. Please." I'm a sucker for a fan so I said I would. Then I regretted the promise. However, now that I am here, with a gig of photos already, I realize that I would clog the Instagram air waves if I tried to load all those photos and look like an Insta-piggy in the process. So back to blogging. Because I need words to describe this place.

Logging in to my looks like a sweater with shoulder pads from the mid-80s- really outdated, but maybe cool if you think in a retro kind of way. I tried Tumblr once but just not cool enough to do that. I don't want to chat with a Tumblr community. I just want to write and show you pictures. So shoulder pads it is.


Now...down to business....I"m drinking, eating, sleeping and walking in nature. Maybe in that order. As I think of it, covering all the basics here in Italy. Happy to have Lee with me - so add love. But, really it is rather stripped of all the stuff we add to life. And yet, it seems pretty much perfect in its simplicity. The wine and food is all local. They don't really even think of doing anything else. Ate a plate of raw beef for lunch - raised up over the hill. Lee had wild rabbit (hare) ravioli. Tasted like it, I guess. Wine is from the Ginori-Lisci estate, the family who own this castle. Yep, a castle. I grew up on a farm. They grew up in a castle. We grew soybeans and they grow grapes and olives. Right here. Right now.

And about the sounds. Well, there aren't any. The loudest thing around here is the tinnitus in my ears. We hear the doves making that sweet lovemaking sound, the swallows whirring by, a buzzing in the ivy on the stone of some very busy critters, and the lilt of the Italian language a few times a day as we run into the handful of people either working or living here in the "village." But let me start from scratch. How did we find this place?

Ten years ago this summer, Lee and I came to Italy - to Florence - for the first time to celebrate our tenth anniversary. It was my first trip to Europe at 52 years old. (Farm girl from Iowa that I was, sudying abroad meant I could go to the University of Iowa in another part of the state.) But I did study abroad that summer, spending a month at the British Institute of Florence taking a class called The History of Renaissance Art.

We stayed at the Palazzo Ginori on Via di Ginori in Florence, near the Palazzo di Medici , in a Renaissance home built around 1500 and, most impressive, remaining with the Ginori descendants today. They have maintained the palazzo in the most beautiful Renaissance form (while adding modern convenience, of course.) The palazzo is divided into 5-6 apartments - it is not a hotel. The Marchese and Marchesa Ginori-Lisci live in the palazzo, another relative lives next door with her two children and others - some family, some not - rent either long term or short term as we did. We have returned five or six times, staying at Palazzo Ginori every time we are in Florence.

We are always welcomed with a bottle of wine that I noticed was produced by the Ginori-Lisci Estate in Tuscany. So we asked about it a few years ago and learned that, well, of course, they have a castle in the country! A Medieval castle that has also been in the family since they inherited it in the early 1800s. We've gathered information about it and finally, this time, Lee said we should go. We are meeting friends in Florence this coming weekend for a week's visit there, but he thought we should go alone to Querceto for a romantic and adventurous week together. So we did. Now here's the little sidemark: I think we are paying something like $150 per night! There is a divine restaurant on the property that I will write about later. It is incredible and I am a very harsh critic of food. We can't really understand how it manages to survive  here other than to think it is simply a part of the offering of staying at this lovely place. Tonight, there was one other couple at dinner! More later....

On arrival, we were shown to our charming apartment - I believe I have read that the castle was built around 1200 so who knows how old these walls and floors and beams are! Let's just say it's older than the suburbs in Minneapolis. A bit chilly but warmed by an electric heater over a door, we are happy to have our Patagonias! But outdoors, with the sun shining, the Spring is lush and full and explosive.

Here's the funny - or not - thing about Italy. They take a lot of time off. Every day. Every week. Every year. So, even though there is a restaurant on the property, it was closed yesterday all day - the day of our arrival. Now, this castle isn't exactly around the corner from a Starbucks. It's a long and winding road to the castle. If it wasn't it would have been pillaged many times over. That's the point of a castle, right? Up high on a hill and hard to reach. So, there really wasn't anything to eat without trekking out. We had passed a restaurant about 20 min from the castle and Anna, the lovely concierge at Querceto, agreed it was very good and would make us reservations.

We were sufficiently tired after our travels to warrant a nap so we tucked in around 5:00 and napped for an hour or so. At 7:15 we left for the restaurant. We got lost, but made our way back and when we got there, realized the chairs were stacked, there were no other cars around and the front door wa locked! Another restaurant closed on Tuesday! As we were getting back in the car, the proprietor came to say hello and explain they were closed, but she was going to get a pizza in the nearby village and we could follow her there and pick something up. We did. Lee dropped me off with her and went to find a parking spot in this Romeo and Juliet of a Renaissance village.

She and I went to the pizzaria and saw that it was also closed!

In the meantime, Lee asked Siri about local restaurants. (This was a VILLAGE, not a town!) and he heard about something, so he came to find me. The very nice woman went on her way - going to forage in her refrigerator, I guess. Lee and I set out to find a place to eat! We were famished by now - having only eaten airplane food for a day.  We found a place and when we went inside, we were greeted as if we were long lost cousins with a great deal of money to divide among the relatives. They said, "Are you from Querceto?" "Si," I replied. (All of this in Italian, btw.)
"And are you the Stevens?"
"Si" again! "How did you know?"
"Anna from Querceto called for your reservations."

How does the universe work that we were led to this little village - I still have no idea what it is called - that we were led to this little restaurant and they were waiting for us! I have decided this is how we should just do our lives. just put the intention out and let the universe lead the way, only to be welcomed the minute you arrive. Isn't that just it?

We had a wonderful, very, very, very large Italian dinner. Lee had six courses including two meats and three desserts. I did my best to help him out. But my lasagne and a walnut / pear / cheese puff pastry was more than I could manage. We later learned that Anna had put a note on our door when she discovered the first restaurant was closed to tell us about the reservation, but in our sleep-deprived stupor we missed it and simply went bumbling out into the world, and a fairly complicated, undulating one at that, to find food. And the world was waiting for us.