Fiesole / Florence / Siena

Fiesole, 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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