TUSCANY WALK

We arrived at the stone church/restaurant/rooms complex just as the rain commenced in earnest. It was two o’clock and we were ready for a full meal.

The restaurant was heated by a wood stove and was empty except for a single woman seated at a table reading a book. “Bona sera,” I said.

“Hello,” she answered with a decidedly American accent. We invited her to join us; we hadn’t spoken at length to another American for over a week.

“I’m a physician with the CDC in Atlanta working in epidemiology and parasitology. I had a three day conference in Sicily outside Palermo last week. It rained for three straight days. Rain and cold and we couldn’t get out of the damned resort without paying a fortune! Then two days for a conference in Rome where it continued to rain. Now I’m spending a week walking from town to town, and it’s still cold and rainy. Oh, I see you’re following Walking in Tuscany. That’s my guide, too.”

She warned us about the trouble she had following the path into Rada. “I just couldn’t find it.” She has worked as a primary care provider in Nepal and on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. We discussed the craziness of our health care system compared to other industrialized nations. She told us a new pope had been elected – from Germany.

No place we have stayed in has a TV or a radio. Not in the guest rooms, not in the common areas. And every place had a shelf of books to read or borrow. No restaurant had a TV on the wall with or without sound. We have passed hundreds of cars between Tavarnelle and Lamole. Not one time have we heard a blasting radio. Why do we in Bainbridge, in Georgia, in the United States, feel the need to fill every bit of our personal space with inane sounds and visual images? There is a value to stillness.

We left San Michelle at 3:30pm. (By the way, the food was wonderful). The temperature had dropped to the mid 30s and the rain was coming down in buckets. We were not dressed warmly enough. Without our full packs we did not have access to additional layers. Our waiter had insisted the walk to Lamole would be downhill and would take less than an hour. We plowed on like innocent savages.

The road changed from dirt to pure mud to a four wheel drive track with ruts filled with running water. It forked with other mud rutted tracks and the road signs ceased. Our maps were no help. The dense forest closed in over the trails. We were lost, but at least we were headed downhill. No cars, no people, no houses. Just woods. We knew that if the muddy path ended suddenly, we would be in serious trouble. We had underestimated the possibility of near-freezing rain; hypothermia would be our reward.

Finally we emerged at the edge of a hillside vineyard. The fog and rain gave us no perspective, although the track leading down now had some hope. Fifteen minutes later we emerged on a hard pack gravel road in (we hoped) the village of Lamole. In the distance we heard a church bell ring five o’clock. Here we were: two old folks under umbrellas, wet, mud-spattered, walking sticks clacking on the ground out of rhythm. What a sight!

In short order we found the home of our hostess, Juliana. “Where have you been? I have been out to look for you twice! In this terrible weather you came down the forest road! No wonder we couldn’t find you. No one takes the forest road in this weather. Let me get you to your room and a hot bath.”

I have never met a more welcome bed and breakfast than Agritourismo di Volpaia. Actually, it’s a lovely place with a beautiful view down the valley. Greve can be seen in the distance.

“Paolo and I have 20 hectares in grapes. We make three kinds of wine here. This has been an awful spring. A foot of snow in February. Now so cold and wet we cannot prepare the vineyards.”

Juliana is originally from Munich, Germany where Barb and I were for three days last week visiting friends we met in Iceland in 1998. She is fluent in German, Italian and English. “I went to Munich to visit my first grandchild. A boy. But like all grandmothers, I am stupid. I don’t know anything about how to raise a child. Just ask my daughter; she will tell you how stupid I am.”

For dinner we ate food we carted from the bakery in Greve in our day packs. Why didn’t we stuff the food into our big packs that we sent here ahead of us? Ah, the wisdom of hindsight.

By nine this evening the rain had cleared and the moon could be seen behind broken clouds. In the distance down the valley sparkled the lights of Greve; and on the hill above Greve, possibly ten miles away, the lights of Cecelia’s Agritourismo where we were last night. Far in the distance the horizon twinkled with the lights from Florence.

What will we do tomorrow if the cold and rain continue?