europe,  Travel

To the New Season and the Past

Autumn has stolen in this year even before we could feel the sting of summer here on the East Coast. Sure the heat was blistering for a couple of weeks, but then it rained like the heavens were brimming, and could not, would not indeed, hold it in. The skies would darken and thicken with mushrooming clouds and there was pure drama in the build-up. When it pelted down, it was even more joyous, except if you were caught outside in the perishing rain.

The year has sped by in a string of house guests. Mid-August we travelled for 16 days straight, when we felt the sting of summer in Italy and Croatia alright. Yet what bliss! The mind and body screamed in unison, “We are not going back anywhere”. Eventually, we got back, but the head and heart refuse to leave behind the space they have nested in, in these beautiful lands.

In Tuscan country, we woke up to the sight of dreamy hills and dark cypresses with their ramrod backs, high above a town called Barga. Pastries and croissants for elevenses. After, we seasoned our souls with bread and olive oil so green that you could smell the grass in it. Demolished bowls of aglio e olio and grilled veggies drizzled with more olive oil. Learnt to cook creamy ricotta dumplings called gnudi; discovered that risotto in Tuscany is made with carnaroli, never Arborio, which is considered pedestrian; and used courgette blossoms for baked dishes. All at the palazzo of an Italian chef who was easy on the eye.

At the chef’s magazine-ready interiors, we met people from Glasgow, Sydney and California, became a family for a noon, having cooked together and exchanged stories, all washed down with endless bottles of Prosecco, then Chianti, Brunello and limoncello.

When you travel, the essence of it is formed of these stories culled from strangers. Different people, different stories, bundles of shared laughter, moments of frothy joy. Some things are priceless.

Two were American ex-military officers, one of whom might be in his 60s but has shifted to the Tuscan town of Lucca to start life afresh there. The other was hopped up about growing courgette blossoms and ways of distinguishing a male blossom from a female. Their genuine passion for food and life was endearing. My favourite was Uncle Bill, as we referred to him. He taught me the Italian expression, fare la scarpetta. It is the custom of mopping up your plate (any extra sauce, oil) with bread. I have been indulging in fare la scarpetta  ever since. The Australian woman was old and ballsy. She had just arrived in Tuscany after hiking along The Path of the Gods on the Amalfi coast. Next was a possible backpacking adventure with her son. The rest were a family, a couple and their young daughter from Glasgow. The woman bore such an uncanny resemblance to Liz Hurley that I could not help comment upon it. Overhearing this natter, her husband warned in his lovely Scottish burr, “OKAY, no more Prosecco for you.”

With this bunch of people, and the chef, we shopped for fresh tomatoes and courgette blossoms in a local grocery store where the sight of the variety of pomodoro, plump and juicy, was a feast for the eyes. The produce was so fresh that the dishes we cooked tasted like no other. Then hopping over to an old bakery for some tasty bread, we sighted the longest slab of focaccia we have ever seen, in Lucca. It was 16-feet long. Epicurean explorations do feed the soul besides an ever-ready gut. We gobbled the focaccia later at the palazzo with plenty of extra virgin olive oil. I think I can hold a discourse on just bread now.

Tuscany was a revelation. Its beauty unsurpassed and added to by the warmth of the Italians. For beauty is an aura of goodness and nothing less than that. Like the young biker couple who made a pit-stop like us along a vineyard for photos, plucked plenty of grapes, and insisted we share. The old couple we met near the Maremma region, who shared their bounty of freshly plucked berries with us.

The generous quantities of bread and pasta had to be worked off, unless we intended to come back, two rotund individuals who would not fit into our plane seats. It worked out to our advantage then that we almost always found ourselves trudging to these towns built by the ancient Etruscans upon tuff hills. Towns threatened by erosion, but somehow clinging on for dear life.

If you look at the featured photo, it is of Civita de Bagnoregio, a tufa town two hours away from Rome and still in the Lazio region of Italy. It is a fantastic town shooting for the skies from its perch upon a column of tuff. Locals call it the dying town. A big chunk of it has already collapsed into the Valle dei Callanchi (Valley of the Badlands) that is its dramatic backdrop and only about 8 people live there now. Along with a colony of cats.

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Civita de Bagnoregio

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Valle dei Callanchi

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Limestone houses of Civita

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From its centuries old church

That’s my return from the land of silence. See how my mouth shoots off. Naturally, I have got to leave the Balkans for another post. It is time for me to sign off, but not before I point out that this is why I have been missing out on the blogging world and its news. Your news. I will catch up by and by and see how life has been unfurling at your end.

Love and peace for the season of flaming beauty.

 

24 Comments

  • lexandneek

    Wow! What an adventure that you are having! The photos are wonderful and the food sounds delectable. I love the descriptions of the people you have met and observed. My favorite is the “The Australian woman who is old and ballsy”. She’s my new hero! -Neek

    • dippydottygirl

      Hello hello hello Neek! Missed our chats. I hope you are having a good week running into the weekend. Thank you for giving me the time of day, and hey, she was a lovely woman and deserving of that status. 🙂 Hugs and love.

  • restlessjo

    I want to up sticks and move to Lucca, or maybe your cover village, and try not to fall into that luscious valley. But there are worse fates. 🙂 🙂 I love it when you get lyrical, and if anywhere is worth getting lyrical for… Blessed memories! I do t’ai chi here with a bunch of Italians and they have such zest for life.

    • dippydottygirl

      Lucca is my favourite too. It is quiet, has the most beautiful architecture, and is so off the tourist charts. And the food, Jo. I wanted to strap myself to Lucca’s bell tower. As for the featured photo, Civita is a toughie. The only way in and out is a really long footbridge. It is so steep that it feels you have lost 10lbs at one go.

      I hear you. I love everything about them including their passion for wine, chatter, and food.

  • carolinehelbig

    Your description of the folks you shopped and cooked with is wonderful. I really enjoyed Lucca too. There’s only oversight in this lovely post: no photo of the chef who is easy on the eye!

    • dippydottygirl

      Curious Caroline! 😀 Curiosity will get you everywhere here though. I shall post one just for you. 😉 Thanks lovely! It was one of my sparkling memories from our Tuscan travels. xx

    • dippydottygirl

      Also, for some reason, I think my comments are not showing up on your posts. I commented on the Elfin Lakes post, but it’s vanished! 🙁

    • dippydottygirl

      It is beautiful and it is nature really. I doubt anyone can do anything about it. The Etruscans had quarried around the cliffs on which they built their towns…therein lies the quandary. :-/

  • wanderessence1025

    I always love reading your accounts of your travels. We just went to Tuscany in May, although we didn’t do any cooking classes. It sounds like your trip revolved around food. Of course, that’s easy to do in Italy. We also went to Civita de Bagnoregio, but sadly it was raining and very foggy when we were there. So disappointing! So I admire (and am a bit jealous of) your photos of that amazing place. Can’t wait to read more about your trip. 🙂

    • dippydottygirl

      So we both had the pleasure of Tuscany this year. It is an unrivalled joy. Like molten butter on toast.

      I would be wary about climbing that path to Civita in dreary, wet weather. You decided well – though I can fathom your disappointment. There must always be some place left for next time, no? 🙂 And, thanks for reading!

      • wanderessence1025

        Yes, Tuscany was wonderful, although we didn’t have the best weather in May. We did climb the path to Civita; I kept hoping the fog would clear but it never did. We walked all around the village atop the hill but sadly had few views.

    • dippydottygirl

      Thank you Sheree. I have missed so many posts on my feed that I am forever playing catch up. 🙂 You are kind, and yes, summer ended on a fine note for us. xx

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