Wednesday morning began with a lovely breakfast set out by Locanda Francigena in their restaurant next door to the tiny, tony villa. No cereal or slabs of bacon here, just lovely fruit, pastries, cakes, brioche and tiny pizzas. Eating pizza for breakfast was not invented in frat houses, apparently. As a kid growing up, I loved cold pizza left over for breakfast and now I see I wasn’t weird, just breakfasting Tuscany style. This place was called La Rustichetta, just a local pizzeria/trattoria with lots of tables outside, a gazebo or two and a double hammock. And it was right on a main street at the roundabout. Tuscany and most Italian cities love those roundabouts. The running joke in our travels is when it says, “take the second exit,” it just means go straight on this street. My cousin picked me up and off we went again back to Florence Airport to retrieve my no longer lost luggage. At this point, I am sure she was thrilled to be the designated relative and was pretty much wishing my trip in Tuscany was over.
I was happy to return to the Firenze Airport, if for nothing else than to use their snappy sink setup in the restroom. Italy is well known for its grace and beauty in design of all manners. And I say this not because I was also designed and manufactured in Italy. In this particular restroom, there were three shiny tubes sticking out from the wall above each sink. The center one was marked Water, the right said Soap and the left one, Air. No pushing people out of the way to get to the air dryer or towel dispenser. People had their very own dryer right at their sink station. No idea why this tickled me so, but it did. Speaking of Italian bathrooms, no trip to Italy would be complete without a comment on the bidet, that invention of theirs to keep one’s arse clean as a whistle, which I have never been able to master. In fact, when we got to our rooms at the wedding site Tuscany farm, I asked my two nephews to show me how the hell it even worked. They squatted, pants on and tried to explain. It made no sense to me. My angles just aren’t conducive to the angle of that particular water fountain. To make things simple for my roommates and I for the next several days and so there would be no need for me to yell, “put the damn toilet seat down”, I hereby proclaimed our bidet would now be a urinal. The boys just shook their heads and walked away.
I have to wonder and, of course I did, how a country so consumed with the condition of the cleanliness of one’s derriere refuses to put seat liners in public restrooms. Mind boggling it is to me. Or is it simply because they assume everyone is constantly bidetting, that all butts are pristine and no seat liners are ever needed. I wonder, but I will have to wonder later as it was time to retrieve my no longer lost clothing.
We arrived at the airport in no time. For once the Italians behaved on the road and didn’t turn an hour’s drive into an all day event. One would assume I would just go back to the Lost and Found office where we filed our claims the day before right near the baggage claim area. Too easy for the Italians. First I had to go to some random office way the other side of the terminal and get a slip of paper which allowed me to then go outside, around the back of the entire terminal and into a garage type area where I went through a metal detector into a tiny little office. Why they would think anyone would even be able to find this place to do a dastardly deed is beyond me. We then were taken outside, across the tarmac and inside to the same Lost and Found office near the baggage claim. Once there, we were taken inside another large room and told to simply go find the luggage amidst a sea of lost and lonely bags. The thought did cross my mind to simply take a lovely large Louis Vuitton but then I knew all I would find would be size 6 clothing in it anyway. And so my saga of the lost baggage had come to an end. We headed back to Lucca.
My siblings had gone to Florence for the day. My cousin had to get back to her horses and her work: she manages very upscale villa rentals in Tuscany. An extremely well known Los Angeles chef is one of her steady clients. Hence the badgering, I mean, the inviting of her to come visit him and me in Los Angeles soon.
I had the afternoon all to myself and so she dropped me in Lucca Centro or city center. What a beautiful city, enclosed inside walls built centuries ago with five different portals to enter. As luck would have it, they were having a big music festival there for a month with all sorts of great acts. I was so sad I missed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds the night before. I wandered around the stage a bit and watched them do some sound check. I talked to a security guard who said Nick was great the night before.
I wandered the spectacular churches and cathedrals, which in Italy are like Starbucks in the US, pretty much on every corner. San Michele was gorgeous and even had its own dead cardinal buried there from eons ago, open for all to see. Nothing makes an Italian church like a dead saint on display. San Martino was under construction and amazing inside as well. I had lunch at Osteria delle Neni, down a tiny back alley, which was there since 1943- the restaurant, not the alley. That was there for centuries. To ask if the food is good at any restaurant in Italy is a bit redundant. You only measure one great meal against another and often it’s impossible to tell really. I bought Brunello in a little wine shop to take home. I wandered into the Gelatarium which was as serious and as pretty a gelato store as you can get, complete with painted ceilings, swings for kids to play on while the parents ate and a wall of gelato spigots.
Puccini was born in Lucca. I know that because of the statue of him in the piazza and the big sign above the building where he was born. I marveled in the Puccini gift shop at all the stuff he wrote like La Boheme and Madame Butterfly. You can tell I am not an opera fan. Lucca was the home of the Lucchese family during the Renaissance, the wealthy bankers of the time. There were still lots of banks with old signage everywhere. I took a taxi back to my little slice of villa heaven to rest up for dinner with the siblings and cousins from America finally. Lucca is such an elegant city. The layout and atmosphere breathes its love of music and art. The yearly summer Lucca musical festival draws some major talent. It’s on the list for a return visit for sure.
Dinner that evening was finally a reunion with my brother, twin sisters and nieces, nephews and paternal cousins from New Jersey. By 10 pm we were seated at a lovely outdoor patio in Viareggio, a seaside town on the Aegean Sea. Fish for dinner, some wine, some catching up, some laughter, some missed turns and wrong directions and I was back in my pretty lavender and white room at Locanda Francigena.
The next day after another wonderful morning having breakfast in the garden of La Rustichetta, it was time to wind our way south towards Siena for the wedding. My sister had planned a lunch for us about midway at a little town called La Streza, which happens to be the hometown of Andrea Bocelli. We pulled up to his family’s restaurant near their vineyard for lunch. The sign on the place says Andrea Bocelli’s Food Court. What? I sure hope there isn’t a Blimpie or a McDonalds in there. Hardly. Thirteen of us sat at two tables and had the most spectacular four-hour Italian lunch. By the time we were done there were 40 empty wine glasses on the adults’ table thanks to the Prosecco, pink Prosecco, Chianti, San Giovese and a Brunello just because I had never had it before. The food was wonderful, simple and delicious. The Bocelli family have been vintners for decades and all their products were for sale here and in the back was a store and wine tasting room. The restaurant was just quaint and so pretty. When you entered, it had books hanging from the ceiling, a lot of them school books from their youth. Andrea’s brother was there as he runs the place. After lunch, we were treated to a tour of a small museum of Bocelli’s life and music on the second floor of the restaurant. It was so very fun and interesting. One wall was lined with all his grandfather’s old vinyl record albums, which got Andrea musically started. Terrific place, terrific talent and terrific treat!
Several hours and wrong turns later, we finally found our wedding destination, la Tenuta La Fratta, about 45 minutes outside of Siena. We checked into a centuries old still working Tuscan farm that was just magnificent. They have pure white cows called Svizzera cows that were surreal looking. They had pigs and hogs as well. We wandered the grounds that afternoon to acquaint ourselves. A restaurant on the premises, a lovely built in pool, a chapel, courtyards and then I came upon a woman sitting outdoors in an ornate and stately courtyard practicing on a grand piano. Chairs were set up and I discovered they do a weekly local music concert each week in July followed by a dinner for the attendees at the restaurant. A walk past the restaurant around midnight found the concert attendees still finely dining al fresco. What a gorgeous house concert setting this was. I read up on the series and came across this passage that speaks volumes to the artistic and political times we live in today. It resonates.
“ This is a difficult moment for Music and Culture and we hold on to the dream that Italy and its artistic wealth (La Fratta playing its worthy part) can defend itself against the politics of ‘nonculture”.
I know we in the US right now can surely relate to the politics of nonculture that’s seeped into much of our country’s societal waters.
Later than evening the 13 of us walked a bit to another restaurant on the property and the kids were thrilled cause this one specialized in hamburgers of all types. Nothing like spectacular food to make teenagers miss a hamburger. They had so many variations but no cheeseburgers, or so we thought. At one point my nephew asked if they had American cheese. No, they said. One of the items that appeared a few times amongst the myriad ingredients they put on about 10 different burgers was a thing called ‘pasta rossa’. None of us new what it meant. None of us bothered to ask. We asked if they had American cheese. My brother had ordered one of the burgers that contained this mysterious ingredient and lo and behold he gets a cheeseburger with what looked like cheddar cheese. Now we know what pasta rossa is. Lots of grumbling from the cheese-less burger eaters.
The next day we went to Siena. Siena is not as a pretty a city as Lucca. It’s very hilly, which with my fascist foot was a bit tough to take. The Duomo was beautiful but under construction and no time to get tickets and enter. This was more of a marathon rush around the city’s main part, lunch and then back to the farm as the wedding officially began Friday night with dinner for the 120 or so guests most of which were arriving that afternoon. We did do a bit of sight seeing in a pretty church across from the Cathedral. We spent a lot of time in a handbag store where I bought a beautiful red leather embossed wallet. My sister, nieces and cousin went hog wild on the gorgeous handbags in the most stunning leather colors I have ever seen: baby blue, a caramel color and the red I got. After a lovely lunch on the main piazza in Siena, back we went to the farm to get ready for the evening’s first dinner of our three day Tuscan wedding weekend. Bon Appetit.