Fiesole / Florence / Siena

IMG_1526Fiesole, Fiesole, Fiesole. For as long as I live, the word will be an incantation, pulling me from whatever muck I have found myself in, kissing me with sun and hill and grass, with the memory of wine and figs, of scorching Florentine meanderings, and late night conversation. Of my Tuscan interlude, there is no risk of excess in the telling, no labyrinth of words in which to be lost. It has been my midsummer night’s dream, and with less than a week to go, I would hate to face the dawn, except that surely only more discoveries await.

Villa M____ sits at nearly the highest peak of the majestic Fiesole region of Tuscany, sparsely bejewelled with stunning homes that have housed people as varied as the Medicis, Proust, and now, well, Chris and Tim. The view from almost every window – hills that roll with vineyards and olive-groves until each gives way to Florence’s sunburned valley, and then more green hills, rising and falling until vision fades and clouds consume. From our new home we watched storms come and go across the city as if they were presentations on some kind of cosmic IMAX, and the villa’s purpled sunsets would nightly compel a hundred clicks of the camera before we retired inside. Oh, and when I talk of olive groves and vineyards, I naturally speak of the olive grove and vineyard of the villa itself, which, it seems, no self-respecting villa is complete without. With rainbow gardens viewed from an imperial balcony, and skies so colourful you would swear they were fictional, one has to concede the Romantic poets were right. What happiness to pass a day in the vain company of Florence, only to retire at evening to the ancient hills without which she would be nothing!

As it transpired, our hostess was away far less than anticipated, but we remained more than welcome – helping out in doses large or small – whilst our incredibly well-read and travelled friend helped us to her lifetime of wisdom and stories … not to mention the food and wine, the likes of which I may never taste again. Her greatest kindness was to smile benevolently at my culinary adventurism, and flatter my penne arrabbiata with the charitable request that I cook again. And although my Italian is nowhere near as good as it should be, I could at least follow a conversation, flatter a chef, and ask for seconds…

Florence is, of course, one of the great gateway cities of Italy, and Tim and I made happy day-trips to Pisa and Siena. In Pisa, we even had the pleasure of meeting Tessa – another travelling writer and friend from home –  a luxury brief but wonderful. Siena we visited twice, the second time for Il Palio, the madcap horse race that on the 16th of August makes grown men weep, whilst others dress up in medieval frocks, or suits of armour, depending on their inclination. The race itself is fast and furious, horses bolting thrice around Il Campo, the town square, which is laid with dirt, and packed with screaming enthusiasts (ourselves included) praying their horse wins, and that they don’t get trampled in the dash. Imagine Phar Lap and Seabiscuit racing around Martin Place, and you have some idea of how demented the whole affair is… Our horse didn’t win – which means it wasn’t violent enough – rules stating a horse may win the race, even if its rider falls off. I’m not sure whether that’s a victory for animal rights, or not. But it’s fun to watch.

I will never forget Fiesole, a place of restorative pause, and also heated industry (there I completed a first full draft of my novel). Although we will all meet again – I have threatened our generous host with a return visit – and my path will cross again with Tim’s, eventually, it will never again be quite like this…

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