Monday, July 07, 2008

Goin' Up the Country (A Very Long Italian Story, Part Seven)

I'm goin' up the country, babe don't you want to go?
I'm goin' up the country, babe don't you want to go?
I'm goin' to some place where I've never been before.
--Canned Heat, "Goin' Up the Country"

Our jumping off day greeted us with showers. We had a light breakfast, settled our bill with Bruno (Ciao, Bruno!), and rolled our bags down to the river to rent our car for the journey south. We got a little wet, as we walked and navigated our way to the rental place, but, it was a minor inconvenience. The paper work for the rental was finished quickly, and in a flash our Fiat Punto was waiting for us outside.

Once we figured out how to get the car into reverse (a tricky little “lift up” trigger), we followed our directions out of Firenze. We only had to back track once. The streets there are crazy. they go in all kinds of directions, they change names in a heartbeat and without warning, and every round about and piazza can send you hurtling off in the exact opposite direction that you wish to go. But, we managed to get out of town and on to the autostrade, which is a lot like the New Jersey Turnpike (except that all the signs are in Italian (and metric)).

We had a really good map that we brought along and good directions from the vacation house in Pienza, so, after a few showers and a couple of hours, we were rolling up on our home base for the next week. The vacation house only took check-ins after 4pm, so, we had about three hours to kill. We explored the town of Pienza (which is about two kilometers from our HQ).

It is a quintessential Renaissance Italian town. This is most likely due to the fact that the town was planned out during the Renaissance by Pope Pius II, who had been born there when the town was known as Corsigliano, and he was known as Enea Silvio Piccolomini. It is clearly planned out, as the center
of town is the Piazza Borgia (the village square), around which sit the cathedral and the Palazzo Comunale (town hall). The main street stretches from each end of the piazza, the cathedral overlooks the slope of the hill on which the town is set and the valley below, and the palazzo's loggia squarely faces the cathedral. The positioning of the cathedral, however, is proving troublesome after five hundred years, as the effects of gravity are pulling the apse and the naves of the cathedral into the valley. The church is still a viable structure, but the cracks are clearly visible both inside and outside the cathedral, and the parola sulla via (word on the street) is that nothing seems to be arresting the inevitable downward movement of the building. In addition, the town also still has its older, back-when-we-used-to-be-just-plain-old-Corsigliano-home-of-Silvio-Piccolomini-not-Pienza-birthplace-of-the-pope church, Chiesa di San Francesco, which contains some 14th century frescos of the life of Saint Fancis, a wicked cool altar, and a chapel of Mary with some very interesting artwork.

After a few hours in town, we headed over to Casa Bertuzzi, but we arrived at 3:30. The office was locked, as the proprietors were enjoying siesta time, a common practice in Italy (we had to wait until 2:15 for the cathedral to reopen in Pienza). So, we napped in the car until 4, checked in, and settled ourselves at the casa before we headed back to Pienza for dinner at Latte di Luna.

This small town restaurant was a great place to eat. The prices were considerably cheaper than in Firenze, and the food was as good (or better) than any place we had dined thus far. We enjoyed the traditional Tuscan pasta, pici, with two different ragus. Excellent. Monkey had started with a bean and bread soup, and I enjoyed some sausage with a really tasty plate of white beans in oil. Everything was wonderful. Again, we stopped for gelatto, at a little store at the entrance to the central district, where we also lunched on foccacia that day. It was acceptable gelatto.

A long day of travelling left us with a head of steam for a good sleep. Tomorrow, we planned to head west, then east, to the wine making centers of Montalcino and Montepulciano.

1 comment:

La Fashionista said...

After some time in Italy, one of my most compelling thoughts was/is that every town in the US should have a piazza at its center. I love what a piazza offers and symbolizes. Its absence makes me truly sad.

Naps are good too. Everyone should nap midday.