February 21, 2017
It has been almost 6 weeks since I arrived in Italy with a one-way ticket and too much luggage. For the last two weeks, I have been living La Dolce Vita, the sweet life, in Maremma. My host family lives in this beautiful area of southern Tuscany and, even in February, it is gorgeous country. I awaken to the sound of the local roosters. Normally, I would be swearing at the early rooster alarms but, here, I don’t mind.
Besides, I have Italian language lessons every morning. I must have caffe’ before that. Virginia Villani, my teacher and exquisite host, keeps me going when I feel like my head will burst from all the Italian. It is not just the 2 hour lessons and I competi, the homework, that is in Italian. I endeavor to speak it with everyone all the time, every day. The children talk with me. Gianni, Virginia’s husband talks with me in Italian, and Rosa, Virginia’s mother, is often here and talks with me also. Sometimes I simply cannot get the words out. When I am tired, it is all a jumble of vowels and syllables. Sometimes I fall asleep at 9pm. My brain just stops working.
As an adjunct to this learning experience, Virginia and I explore other locations. Everywhere we go we speak in Italian. Here in Maremma, English is not really spoken. And there are no tourists here. I love the authenticity of this adventure.
Our first on site visit of the week was in Pitigliano, an incredibly gorgeous hilltop town built into the tufa like a crown on top of a giant rock, the shape of a cruise ship sailing through the surrounding countryside.
When I saw Pitigliano, I felt as though I had wandered into a fairy tale of an ancient land, far away. The area was originally an Etruscan region and became part of the Aldobrandeschi family’s holdings in the 11th Century. Later, the Orsini family took control.
The Medieval construction and wonderful arches grab at my heart. I always experience a romantic walk when in a place such as this.
One section, however, held centuries of sorrow and that area is called Little Jerusalem. There was a Hebrew population in Pitigliano. The Orsini Family welcomed them in the 17th Century, I believe. But when the Medici family took over control of the area, they instituted the use of the Ghetto, the area for the Jews. They all lived near their Synagogue and they did prosper. At one time, the Jewish Community was about ¼ of all people living in Pitigliano and their area became nicknamed Little Jerusalem.
We visited Little Jerusalem on the eve of Shabbat, the day of rest. We were told that there were not enough men there now to continue all the traditions and keep the Synagogue open. We toured the areas where they had lived, worked, baked their bread, raised their animals and where the ritual baths were taken. All had been dug out of the tufa stone by the people who had lived there for centuries.
One photo above is a work of art created in memory of all the Jewish lives lost in World War II. Being there was an unforgettable experience. I hope to return when I have more time and can understand Italian better so I can hear more stories of their lives. Stories keep them alive for me.
The following afternoon, Virginia and I visited another incredible hill town, Capalbio. Last year at about the same time, my cousin and I ventured into Capalbio for a very short visit. I recall, as we drove up to toward it, the path opened and there it was, like Camelot on top of the hill.
Once we parked and began our explorations, we entered the ancient fortifications. Virginia explained how the parapet around the walls had been added later. The original structure, I believe, is from the 11th Century. It is truly medieval construction, with flying buttresses extending outward as archways and supporting the vaults above. Narrow walkways wind through the town. It appears haphazard but was originally designed that way to confuse any intruders who may have gotten past the outer walls. I love wandering those narrow areas. It is somehow haunting and magical.
So many twists and turns—it was so much fun.
Even in February, I caught a few birds about.
And Spring was in the air.
Ci vediamo dopo, Capalbio! See you later!
Our next trip took us to the sea and to Porto Ercole. The town is famous for its port, its beaches and wonderful restaurants. It is also the place where the rocus, creative artist Caravaggio died. See the monument above.
I loved being by the sea. The towns along the Etruscan Coast are hilly right down to the passeggiata, the promenade where all the people walk along the coastline. Streets twist and turn up the hillsides and homes capture the views above their neighbors’ homes. And the old Spanish fort at the top has the best view of all.
Of course, it is all about the water. And the boats on it.
Doesn’t that look inviting?
And it is only February. It was a wonderful day but not the last of the water adventures for the week.
Perhaps, I went a bit water crazy when we visited the Etruscan town of Talamone. This little fishing village was once a Aldobrandeschi family property. They built forts atop the hills here, overlooking the Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Homes were built below, all the way down to the port itself.
Besides wonderful beaches, Talamone is famous for its connection to Garibaldi, the hero of the Italian Unification. Garibaldi and his band of 1000 men arrived in Talamone in 1860. They needed arms, ammunition and more fighters. They found it all here.
And I found the stones at water’s edge, the waves and the wonder of it all. I sat for hours admiring the sun glistening in the waves.
I watched and filmed the same giant black stone as it was barraged by the waves over and over again.
And the peace that filled my soul was nearly overwhelming. I recalled a portion of a poem I once read by Keats, a man who also experienced Italy’s La Dolce Vita.
Oh, ye! Who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh, ye! Whose ears are dinned with the uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!
I wish you were here with us.
Ciao for now.
Ciao for now!
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Ciao for Now!
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