Tuscan Tales Chapter 28 – The Florentine Flop


To me the best day of the year is my birthday. The 22nd March … not the 21st March or the 23rd March. I am quite unable do that. For, as long as I can remember, my joy has been to celebrate my birthday in my home, surrounded by friends and family, and I cook. A sort of lousy Babette’s Feast, for I am no cook to write home about, but this is the day that I pull out all the stops.

This year for the first time we were in Tuscany. ‘I’ll feed them all here,’ I told my brother, who was visiting from the Cape.  ‘Us, Mila and Mauro from Venice, and Kira and Mirko from Florence. I’ll set the yellowwood table beautifully. I’ll use Ouma’s old dinner service and I’ll cook something nice – with a real Cape flavour’.

My brother, a long time sufferer of my culinary experiments, looked at me dubiously: ‘Wouldn’t it be better to just go to a restaurant?’ he said. ‘Nope!’ I said, ‘I’ll ring Kira and see if she can come’. Now Kira is a legendary cook of note. Liam would walk the 32 kilometres from our house to Florence simply to taste her risotto. ‘Oh oh,’ said my brother, ‘THAT Kira.’

And so the doubt set in …

‘Kira,’ I said on the phone, ‘do you perhaps know of a nice cosy off-the-tourist-track restaurant in Florence where we can go for my birthday?’

duomo fixed

The nice cosy off-the-tourist-track restaurant lay just behind the Duomo. It was packed to the brim with locals enjoying good Tuscan fare. Doors and windows were closed against the March chill, scented waves of ribollita, lasagne and pasta competed with the chat and general laughter of people simply having a seriously good time. The local Tuscan red flowed and our table was enjoying it all immensely. ‘No matter that I did not cook,’ I thought, ‘I feel as happy as I have on every birthday.’ My brother glanced across the table at me, lowered his eyes and smiled gratefully at his plate.

It was late afternoon by the time we walked out of the door of the restaurant. The men walked ahead while us women set a more leisurely pace, strolling down the narrow cobbled streets and gazing at the beautiful displays in each window that we passed. Every now and then we stopped to talk about owning one of the stunning Florentine creations on show.

We were almost at the parking garage where we had parked the car when another and different window display sprang to light – it was a bicycle shop. On display were beautiful gleaming bikes of all shapes and designs … pedal, electric, fold-up … Fold-up? ‘Just the thing!’ I cried, ‘Let’s go in and have a look.’

Full of red wine and bonhomie we very soon forged an excellent friendship with the owner of the shop. ‘What I need,’ I said, ‘is a fold-up bike that would fit into Campari. Then I can come into Florence on a Sunday and I can simply park anywhere, get the bike out, and off I go.’

‘Sure!’ said the owner – he was so nice – ‘but you don’t want an ordinary little one. You want one with style’.

‘Style, that’s it exactly!’ chorused the three of us, ‘It simply won’t do without style.’ And then he produced it. A magnificent white, gleaming charge ready to do battle with any of the rough cobbled streets and traffic jams of Florence. ‘Oooooh!’ we gasped.

By this time the men had doubled back to find us, and they were much more critical, if not a tad sceptical. ‘But how does it work?’ asked Liam. ‘Oh that’s easy’ said the lovely man ‘You just snap-click and the handle bars and front wheel fold back to double the bike back onto itself.’ The men walked around it. Finally Liam, with a twinkle in his eye, said ‘Well, if it can fit into the back of Campari you can have it. It’s your birthday present.’

backseat fixed

Campari was duly fetched from the parking garage and positioned on the pavement outside the bicycle shop door. ‘Snap-click’ went the man and onto the back seat of Campari went the bicycle. A perfect fit, and a perfect end to a perfect day.

The next Sunday Liam folded my gleaming new toy onto the back seat of Campari and off I set for Florence. ‘Enjoy’ he cried as he waved good-bye from our wooden gate at the bottom of our valley, ‘Explore Florence and come back to tell me all about it’.

Passing Pasquale in his orto I called out to him. ‘Buongiorno … I’m going riding in the streets of Florence. ‘Let me see,’ he replied and came up to the car, ‘Oh, one of those’ he said. ‘Better you take the bus’. And muttering something suspiciously like ‘new fangled rubbish’, he set off back to his vegetable patch.

I decided to park Campari just in front of the American Embassy. ‘It’ll be a nice ride along the Arno to the Ponte Vecchio,’ I thought, ‘and then I’ll take it from there’.

I got the bike out and set off. I crossed the Arno at the Ponte Amerigo Vespuci and cruised slowly along the south bank of the river. A light breeze played softly in my hair. ‘Oh this is the life’ I thought, ‘so step it up girl.’ I pedalled faster. In front of me I could see the Ponte Vecchio, its beautiful medieval shops basking in the morning sunlight. I headed for it.

Just about at the corner of Ponte Santa Trinita and Via Maggio there is a row of dust bins – those funny big grey ones on four little wheels. It was there that I heard a snap, but no click. With that the handle bars and front wheel folded in on me and I found myself airborne. With an unceremonious flop I landed on top of the dust bin with the broken lid. Tourists gasped, onlookers gazed … and I?

Dustbins fixedIgnoring my grazed elbows, and not even attempting the ‘snap-click’ I lifted the awkward beast up and beat a hasty retreat down the narrow side road running towards the Santo Spirito.

 

 

 

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Tuscan Tales Chapter 14 – Country Cacophony

Nights in the countryside take on a rhythm of their own.  In our valley, in the evening time when the long shadows start to fall, and the heat begins to wane a little, doors begin to open and our neighbours appear.  Manuela, on the west side, will call to Pasquale still working in the fields, and on the eastern side Leila will take the two dogs, Lily and Beethoven, for a walk.  At the moment Lily is on a long piece of rag so that she cannot stray far.  She is wearing socks on her back paws and is a sorry sight.  Some hunter has put poison down in our woods and Lily has trodden in it.

Beethoven and Lily are tied up at night, each to their own tree, below our bedroom window. They have to be. For in the middle of the night both the deer and a large herd of wild pigs, or ‘cinghiali’, come through, foraging along the hillside and down towards the stream. The dogs would be after them like a shot, and the enormous tusks of a cinghiale would do more damage than even the hunter’s poison. Once Leila has tied up the dogs, and we’ve had a little chat in my experimental Italian, she disappears back inside. Then old Enzio locks up his beloved fowls and follows Leila indoors. All around the old house you can hear doors closing and shutters being secured, for there is a nasty little Tiger mosquito around at the moment.

"She is wearing socks on her back paws ..."
“She is wearing socks on her back paws …”

So, as the darkness settles around the valley, you might think a blessed peacefulness would too. But right now the nights are not peaceful. In the early hours of the morning, as the cinghiali move through, Beethoven sets up a steady bark. Lily accompanies him with an incessant whine, no doubt a lament on dogs compelled to wear bootie-socks. Last night a cat joined the chorus – to such a pitch that for the first time ever, old Enzio, who is as deaf as a post, suddenly appeared at the dogs’ tree using some Italian words that have not been in my weekly Italian vocabulary lessons. And then there’s the cock.

It was one of our visitors, earlier on in the summer, who came down to the kitchen one morning in a state of apoplectic shock.

‘Morning Marion, sleep well?’ I asked.

‘Not at all’ she replied. ‘It’s that b—– cock. I think I’m going to wring its b—– neck.’

I was mildly surprised. We’ve sort of got used to Enzio’s cock – a tiny, colourful Chianti cock who struts around his hens with the air of an Italian gigolo surrounded by pretty girls in a small piazza. Sure, Enzio’s cock crows every morning at about sunrise, but it’s all part of the Tuscan country dream, or so we thought. Not so Marion.

"... a tiny, colourful Chianti cock ..."
“… a tiny, colourful Chianti cock …”

‘We all know our nursery rhymes,’ she said ‘and we all know our animal sounds. That’s elementary. Now this b—– cock doesn’t. It’s left off the ‘doo!’

‘What on earth are you on about?’ I asked.

‘Well it does,’ she said. ‘It’s supposed to say Cock – a – doo – dle – DO. Five syllables. And it only says Cock – a – doo – dle. Four syllables. It leaves off the DO every time, and I’ve had no sleep at all, waiting for the wretched DO and I’m fed up with it.

So right now in the heart of a peaceful Tuscan valley the nights are not for sleeping. Once the deer, the cinghiali, the cats and the foxes have done their bit to keep us awake, we have to listen carefully. And my Italian vocabulary lessons are at stake. For I have learnt that Italian cocks say ‘chicchirichi’.

Chi – cchi – ri – chi?  It seems like four syllables to me.

Does this mean that Italian cocks are different from English cocks … four syllables and not five syllables? And for that matter, between cocks, does a syllable matter?

 

gallo nero

 

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