We have reached the half-way point on our six-week journey. It is hard to believe that we've only been gone that long. Last night I was reviewing some photos on my camera (whose memory card is already full!). When I looked at pictures from Paris, it felt like that was a year ago. We keep feeling like we'd like to freeze time for a day at the end of each stay, just so that we could review and digest what we've seen.
I find that by the end of day two, I begin to get into the rhythm of a place. I start to know my way around a bit, and start recognizing landmarks as we come and go from our accommodation. I even find myself smiling when I see new arrivals, pulling their luggage down the streets with that lost, vulnerable look on their faces that I must have worn the day before. Then, in another day or less, we move on to the next destination. Not so with San Gimignano.
After picking up our car in Florence on Saturday morning, we leave the city and head into the countryside of Tuscany. Our country mouse cheers with relief. She loves to see green around her instead of crowds, finding cities to be a necessary evil. Unfortunately, as she says, you won't find a Michelangelo sitting out in a field. Our approach to SG does not afford us much of a view of the town. After phoning for directions to our B&B, we head down a gravel road outside the gate, and the skyline of the town starts to reveal itself behind us. Climbing out of our car, we walk to the back of the house, and immediately realize that we have booked a week in paradise. One of the first things that strikes us is the heady sweetness of the air. Before us is a beautiful pool, surrounded with umbrellas and pots of flowers. To our left lies the ruggedly handsome town - a viewpoint that you don't get from any other angle. On all sides of us, the land spreads out in a patchwork of rolling hills coloured in spring green, alternating with the corduroy pattern of vineyards and orchards of olive trees with their grey/green leaves. All of this is punctuated by the dark green strokes of the rows of cypress trees. Tile-roofed villas dot the distant hilltops and, in the far distance, high and hazy hills form the horizon. We both look at each other, speechless for a few moments. As our strictly Italian hostess would say with great understatement, "Bella - no?" Bella, yes. And the icing on the cake is her English-speaking assistant, her son Francesco, who looks pretty much like a fully-clothed miniature version of Michelangelo's David.
The scented air, we determine, comes from a combination of sources. One is a shrub with sweet-smelling bright yellow flowers that look like butterflies lighting on the branches. Another is Carla's collection of fragrant roses, all with saucer-sized blooms. Still another is the huge acacia tree in the yard. It is in full bloom, and there is a constant low hum around it from contented bees. When the wind blows, a shower of creamy petals takes flight and even drifts into our room, which opens off the patio. We will later learn that the property is just as magical at night when the lights come on in the town (which we can see from our bedroom window) and also twinkle from the villas and villages dotted across the hilly landscape.
In the morning, we sit out on the patio with this amazing view, and a green-eyed Italian man brings me my coffee. By that time, Wendy has already been up since dawn, swimming in the silence as hot-air balloons pass over, then walking through the nearby orchards. Later we may walk into San Gimignano (which is also beautiful) and spend some time taking pictures, window-shopping, or eating gelato and big slices of pizza with tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Other days we drive to other towns like Cortona and Volterra, all of which are walled and precariously perched on mountain tops, accessible only by miles of zigzagging narrow roads. I can't imagine any army wanting to besiege them badly enough to make that kind of uphill hike! Each village has its own peculiar charm, and I was tickled when we were able to do some detective work and find Bramasole, summer home to Frances Mayes, author of "Under the Tuscan Sun."
I could go on for pages more about the small pleasures that each day affords: the tiny green lizards that sun themselves on rock walls and skitter into the underbrush as we approach, the swallows that whistle like over-eager referees, then swoop down over the pool to scoop up a beakful of water, the pheasant unexpectedly crossing the road in front of us as we walk to town, the unidentified bird or fowl (perhaps even the self-same pheasant) that we hear and never see, sounding like the horn of a Model T Ford, but at a slightly higher pitch. But the towers of San Gimignano are beckoning outside my window, and I want to go out and savour every moment of the time I have left here.