Jun. 24th, 2007

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I've been several days behind in blogging, which I am sorry for. Not just because you don't get to read what I'm doing, but because writing it down helps me remember and enjoy.

June 21 was several things. First, it was the longest day of the year, being the solstice. Second, it was Lis's birthday. And, third, we realized that it was exactly my one-third-century mark.

It was also the first day we went into Florence.

Bucine, where we're staying, is like an hour outside Florence, so it's easy to hop on the train, spend the day, and come back. Which is one of the things we've been doing. On the 21st, we did said hopping with my sister, mother, and father. We couldn't figure out how the heck the ticket machine worked, so we ended up riding without the ticket, which is a gamble . . . if you get caught, it's a five euro fine. As it happened, we got caught, and our tickets cost 10 euros apiece, rather than 5 euros. Oh, well.

My sister was hungry enough to be grumpy on the way in, so we stopped at a cafe when we got into Florence, and had pastries and fruit and coffee and juice and stuff. After doing so, we all felt in much better moods, not only Leila. Healthy blood sugar levels are a good thing.

Then we began wandering about the city together. We headed toward the Duomo, and just walked around that area, admiring the gorgeous cathedral, and eventually (after looking at the outdoor spot with dozens of famous statues, including the reproduction of Michalangelo's David (the original is in the Acadame museum, but the reproduction is in the original space where it was put) headed off to the Uffizi Gallery, where we had timed tickets for 12:45.
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We used Lis's cell phone to call my parents to let them know we'd be late, and sauntered off to the train station, spending as much time as we wanted just looking at stuff. And we got to the train station in plenty of time to catch the next train. Which we couldn't figure out where it was. On the track that we THOUGHT the train was supposed to be, a different train was. We were a bit confused, and after a few minutes, we watched that train pull out, and I looked at the schedule on the wall again.

"Hey, Lis?" I said. "Do you think it's significant that, when we look at the schedule for THAT train that pulled out, and the schedule for the one WE wanted to take, they both leave from the same track at exactly the same time, and go to exactly the same stations?"

"Hmm," she said, and we wandered off to find someone who worked for the trains, to ask if we had just missed the train that we wanted which was disguised as a different train.

We found someone, and he looked at me, and said, "Shalom!" He was the third or fourth person who recognized me as Jewish -- I forgot to mention that the guy selling the leather jacket was ALSO Jewish, and recognized me as such.

Now, I don't consider myself to look, y'know, NOT Jewish, but I don't think of myself as looking TOTALLY OBVIOUSLY Jewish, either.

Apparently, however, I need to re-evaluate.

And, yes, of course, that HAD been our train.

We shrugged, and wandered off to the cafe in the train station to get a soda or something, and phoned my folks to let them know that we were going to be even later.

We wandered around the station for a bid, and Lis said, "Hey! Look at that!" "That" was a woman in an incredibly cute short black dress, bolero jacket, heels, and pearls, who just swayed VERY nicely while she walked. She was quite a worthwhile sight to look at, which showed that there were some compensations for missing our train.

And a thought came to me, a useful thought for being on vacation in Italy: "Yes, where I'm going is going to be very nice. But, where I am is ALSO very nice. It will be good to be THERE, but it is also good to be HERE. So, I will get THERE when I get there, and it will be nice, but, until then, I will be HERE, and that's not bad, either."

We got back to the villa, and everyone had put on a big spread for dinner for all of us, which, as we were a couple hours late, we hadn't had to help cook. And it was really good, as well as just being good to hang out with everyone.

We started to finish up eating, and my sister and a bunch of my cousins took some of the plates and stuff into the kitchen, and came back with carrying a cake with a candle in it, and singing "Happy Birthday" to Lis.

All in all, a pretty good day.
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One of the other things we learned back on the 21st was that the 22nd was going to be a train-strike day. Only a few critical trains would be running on Friday.

So, we let everybody back at the house know this, and suggested that this made an excellent excuse to just chill and take it easy.

See, my grandmother is an Italian Catholic (not hugely practicing). My grandfather is Protestant, at least technically.

They run the family business together, along with my father, his brother, and his brother-in-law. Plus other people, too, but the point is, what happens when you add the Italian temper and temperament to the Protestant work ethic?

You end up with a situation where, when you suggest to my generation the idea of having a day just hanging around the beautiful villa, lying out by the pool, maybe wandering down to the village for a beer or coffee, and generally taking it easy and hanging out, they react not only enthusiastically, but with genuine relief. Lis and I hadn't been in Italy when everyone else took the day trip to Lucca, but, frankly, I'm GLAD we weren't there. Everyone agrees that Walter is an AMAZING driver for being able to take the ten-person van down the medieval streets in which they had to fold in the mirrors on both sides in order to fit, but nobody seems to really dwell on the fact that they were only IN those streets because everyone was completely ignoring Patrick, who had the map and was saying, "Um, we need to turn left here to avoid going into tiny little medieval streets in which our van isn't allowed. . . "

In any case, Fabio, who is the owner of the villa we are renting, came by and asked if we all wanted to go on a car tour of the area. He'd take his van, we'd take our van, and he could show us cool things in and around Bucine.

This seemed like an excellent, low-key plan, and we did it. We drove over a bridge in which the structural part was Roman work, and above it was medieval work, and then they put modern pavement on it. We stopped at an apiary to watch them extract honey from honeycomb. We went to a partially-restored medieval castle, which is now a village with five families in it. We went to the winery that Fabio is part-owner of, then went to Fabio's father's farm, and saw the more traditional setup with which his father-in-law makes and bottles HIS wine. As well as meeting the gentleman and wandering around his farm. And then we went out to dinner.

That's the overview. Let me now zoom in and tell you a couple cool bits from here and there around the day. . .
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So, that was the ruined castle. Then we went on to the winery. Although Fabio is a part-owner, he's not the vintner, so he only knows the basics of how everything works: there were things about which I knew more than he did. Still, I learned a lot, especially about the business end: they have a bottling license, which is expensive, and so other local vineyards need to go to them for fermentation and bottling, and it was neat to learn about how that all worked.

In Tuscany, you DON'T need a bottling license to sell your wine in 45-liter jugs. So some taverns have local wines more-or-less on tap, or at least in unlabeled bottles that they decant the big jugs into.

We finished off with a bit of a wine-tasting, and then headed off to Fabio's father-in-law's farm, on the other side of town. He has a few cages of rabbits, some small chickens for meat, a flock of larger chickens for eggs, and some cages of turkeys. There's a kitchen-garden with vegetables and fruit (right now, their strawberries and squash are up). A few fruit trees -- peaches, plums -- some nut trees, and so forth. But the main part of the farm is vineyard (although with olive trees planted throughout -- simply because at one point, he was considering switching over to oil production instead of wine). He grows three types of grapes, and I forgot to take notes about what, specifically, they were.

He does all the work himself, except during harvest. (Although, I would suspect that his wife has a bit to do with the chores, as well. . . )

And then we went into the house to see HIS winery -- a much smaller, and entirely traditional, affair.

That was ALSO incredibly interesting, but I'll only mention one thing which I learned: how to put a cork INTO a wine bottle.

They have this machine -- you put the full bottle on a little platform, with the neck of the bottle right under this gizmo with a lever, and you put a cork in the top, and you pull the lever, and the place where the cork is irises closed, squeezing the cork, and, pulling the lever further, there's this peg on the bottom side of the lever, which pushes the cork into the bottle.

After that, we headed back home, and I now have to do some cleaning and stuff, so that's a good place to stop THIS post.
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We came home from the farm, and had a couple of hours until our dinner reservations at a relatively-nearby restaurant (at which Fabio's son-in-law worked). Some of us took a dip in the pool, or a quick nap, or chatted, or whatever, and then, eventually, we all changed for dinner and came down.

Nobody particularly came UP with the idea of changing for dinner -- it's just that ONE person started putting together an outfit, and then someone else thought that changing was a good idea, and we all dressed up just a little -- not much, but enough that Nonnie noticed, and said, "You all look nice," and looked pleased that we all had demonstrated that we thought that spending a night out with our family was important enough that we'd do a little something to mark it.

In any case, it was the last night that Meghan and her if-he's-not-scared-off-by-this-he's-gotta-be-a-fiancee Patrick were going to be around, as they were going home the morning of the 23rd, so that was another reason to just, y'know, look a LITTLE nicer than usual.

It was a traditional Italian meal, and we ordered it as such -- antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti. The place was known also for its pizzas, which, I guess, you could get served either as primi or secondi.

Nonnie was convinced that we'd ordered FAR too much food when she realized that the antipasti plates that were being brought out were brought one per PERSON, rather than one per every three or four people.

And yet. . . we pretty much cleaned every one of those plates.Read more... )

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