Today we had a free day on the schedule so our tour guide and Professor Strokanov arranged a wine tasting at one of the premier vineyards in Tuscany. We learned how to properly hold a wine glass and how to thoroughly enjoy and taste the wine – incorporating all the senses. You have to let it breathe, swirl it in your glass, smell it, then taste it and hold it in your mouth for about 5 seconds. It’s a novel idea, thinking about tasting things in this way – really exploring the experience of them with your senses. Even the lunch I had in Florence the day before was so slow. It took quite some time for the waiter to come, for my first course and my second course, and even for the check. I was prepared to spend so much time at that time, but it was hard to sit still for so long just for a meal. Meals are so cheap and fast in the US – people don’t take the time to appreciate and evaluate what they are putting in their bodies. Whereas here, in Italy, if you are going to sit down for a meal, you are going to partake in an entire experience. What a wonderful idea! Evaluating what you are eating, letting it settle, thinking about its effect on your body, enjoying your company, maybe even ignoring your phone and email and Facebook… I think there is something to be said for meals to be more appreciated.
I digress – back to the wine tasting! They also brought out olive oil, truffle oil, and balsamic vinegar to taste. We had the truffle oil on lasagna and it was the most amazing piece of lasagna I have ever had in my life. You could tell the pasta was homemade… it would never occur to me to make pasta! I will remember that lasagna for a long, long time.
Before we went to the Vineyard, we spent some time in San Gimignano. It has 13 medieval-era towers that wealthy families built back in the day to show off. As San Gimignano was along a trade route, there was a lot of wealth in the area and it was an important city for travelers of all kinds. At its peak, there were 72 towers in the city. As times began to change, though, San Gimignano became less important and began to decay and decline. It was like time skipped over it – no gothic or renaissance construction are found and so today it is a rare and unique gem. This was my favorite of all towns. It was so quiet and relaxing with spectacular views, well-kept streets and storefronts, and medieval architecture. It felt so much safer than Florence or Verona or Venice, too, having so many fewer people. I joked with Kathleen that if they did have a pickpocket, the police probably knew him by name. We all laughed. It had that small town vibe and quieter way of life that so many places in Vermont have.
In the early afternoon, we headed back to Florence. We didn’t have a lot of time, but I hadn’t seen the inside of the Duomo and I really wanted to go inside. It had been a hot day that day, so I was wearing shorts and in Italy it’s not appropriate for your knees or shoulders to be visible when visiting a church. I had completely forgotten that until I saw the sign at the door. I was pretty disappointed, but I agree with the rule. People should take pride in their clothing choices. I know I’ve mentioned pajama pants before, but there are other trends that we have embraced in the name of self-expression that may be fine for some things but not necessarily for all things. Well-made clothing – dresses, skirts, pants, shirts – is intended to be comfortable, functional, and to make a statement. I promise it is possible to find clothes that do all of that. Besides that, not everything you wear is meant to be seen by everybody in the entire world. I know it’s a shocker, but not everything is appropriate in every single environment. We seem to think that because something is comfortable for us that it’s right to wear in any situation. Well, it’s not. Nor should it be.
Anyway, I really wanted to see the inside of the Duomo, so I did the only thing a girl could do in such an inappropriate wardrobe situation. I bought an emergency skirt at a little shop up the road. I explained to the shopkeeper when she asked if she could help me that I wanted to get in the church. Her English was very good and she looked me up and down and said, “So you need something long… and cheap.” She whipped out a skirt that I promptly bought for less than 20 euros. She assured me kindly, if apologetically, “You will wear it again.”
Armed with my skirt, I had just about 15 minutes before the church closed for the evening and Mary (a fellow student who had been in the same boat with the knees not being covered) and I ran to get inside and connect with the rest of our group. To be honest, the most impressive part of the Duomo (for me, personally) was the outside and the story behind the construction. The inside paled in comparison to some of the other exquisite buildings we had been to in Venice. It was still far grander than anything I’ve seen back home.
After the tour and a quick bite to eat, some of the girls and I went on an adventure to find a particular shop that they knew about. On our way back I decided I needed to buy some Limoncello, as I hadn’t been able to find it anywhere yet and I knew it was one of those things that you try when you are in Italy. We stopped off in a hole in the wall of a convenience store. Seriously, some of these downtown shops are so small. They are the size of large closets! But I managed to find a small bottle of Limoncello and I picked up a Diet Coke, as well.
The shopkeeper didn’t speak English – he was a kindly old man with a sweet smile and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. It’s funny, bridging the language barrier. I find that I have to think about my words very carefully and that I measure them for speed and weight before I speak. I smile and apologize a lot, too. Between gestures, smiles, and a calculator, the shopkeeper and I managed to make the sale. Then he pulled out a plastic bag and put my Diet Coke inside it. He handed me the bag and the bottle of Limoncello separately, smiling and pantomiming breaking it open so that I could drink it on my way up the street. I laughed my way out of the shop, marveling at our exchange. How much we said to each other without ever speaking words we both knew! Humor is one of the most powerful tools a person can employ. I am glad to have a sense of it – even when words don’t work.