I hate the words “weather permitting.” It messes with all of my modern sensibilities filled with iPhones and the Internet. It strips me of my New York City conveniences, where I can get anything I want at just about any time of day. I think, “I’d like coffee and bagels delivered this morning,” and in about 15 minutes they are there. I say, “I need to go to a bank,” and there is one open, even on Sunday. Social hours last well till four in the morning if not later, blurry-eyed at the diner.
As Native American as I am, I’ve grown used to these conveniences, to trekking out to get work done, even when the wind is literally blowing snow sideways outside. My Cherokee name is not “Hummingbird” without reason. I want to get somewhere quickly, then really take it all in like nectar.
BUT, Italy says, “Bah!” to all that. Italy says, “We’ll see. ”Italy says, “We’re on strike today, and it’s just too bad you can’t take a train. Bus? No. No busses today either.” Italy says, “There is some internet.” Italy says, “Just stay here tonight and go ‘domani’ (tomorrow).” And finally, Italy says, “Caffé?”
How do they do it? How do they drink so much coffee at all hours of the day and still maintain such a relaxed sensibility? It’s absolutely miraculous. It’s also absolutely miraculous in the way they handle driving. The streets are narrow, and I mean narrow, with most winding around hills or circular intersections with an assumption that all will be fine.
And yet, I’ve found that there is no place on earth where the people are filled with such a love of food. Maybe it’s the Roman Catholicism, which allows gluttony as long as you confess it the next day, but literally food and love are the foundations of Italian culture. Therefore—a heads up—if you think food is just something that you put in one end and itcomes out the other, Italy is not for you, and for sure, Tuscany is not for you.
Tuscany was an Olympics in what my stomach could handle. The Tuscan hills applied a veneer of vertigo on my stomach, and the sky was a winter grey with low-level clouds turning the view into what I’m sure is typically golden into a silvery sage. Nonetheless, I am a devout food lover, so I agreed to each new gastronomic adventure, where my taste buds reigned and the rest of me sat in submission and dealt with it.
So, what did I eat? Well, the best olive oil I’ve had sofar. Floral green in flavor and aromatics, it infused most things with a sense of fresh luscious moisture. Yes… those are the words. Fresh. Luscious. Moisture. No food is left dry, but neither was any food left heavy, thanks tothe olive oil.
I ate Ribollita and Pappa Pomodoro, two Tuscan bread soups that were once considered “poor-people” food and now I was learning to make them with a private chef in the Tuscan hills. (I’msure the ancients are sitting around laughing over that in the spirit world.) It uses stale bread, but fresh ingredients, and was perfect on a cloudy winter day.
I had fresh Ravioli, made with whole grain wheat and stuffed with Ricotta cheese and a type of kale I’ve only seen in Italy so far. After a bath in salted water, the pasta was languidly tossed in a sauce made of sage-infused butter. Uh, yeah. Yum.
I drank fantastic wines, from the old-world styles where vines are pruned by the turning of the moon, to newer fresh young wines made by new fresh young people coming up in Italy.
I ate fat. Yes. Just fat. It’sa type of pork fat that has been infused with garlic and salt and laid to cure between marble slabs.
I had the best risotto. It was light and filled with artichokes, and I wasn’t in too much pain to have real Tiramisu.
I ate and ate, and Yvona drove and drove. Who’s Yvona? Yvona Rocher! She was my angelic guide, God bless her—a VIP guide who opens thedoors for anyone wanting to understand the deeper side of the Tuscan hills. She is an expert on the fruits of Tuscany. From wine to shoes, she can find the best and take you there. Yvona was an angel to put up with my vertigo, an angelto zip up narrow Italian roads while I composed myself and my stomach for more,and finally an absolute angel to pick me up in Monterosso Al Mare to take medown to Tuscany, since there was a train strike, and no trains were going anywhere that day. Angel.
After the food was all eaten, and I said goodbye to the Tuscan hills, I was thankful that my train ride to my next destination was long—crossing Italy takes longer than traveling up and down the length of the boot. I was thankful for this inconvenience, because I needed time to rest, to come back to a sense of balance with my stomach, to digest.
I slowly sank down into my seat… further and further… deeper into my newly arrived Italian demeanor. After all, there was still “domani.” I didn’t write on the train. I didn’t work. I dosed off more than once with my computer screen open in front of me, looking at me, but turning a blind eye.
I knew I would eventually write about the wine makers, and the olive oil makers, and the broad Italian chef, but in another entry… the Internet would just have to wait. This is Italy after all.