Following a very good set of meetings in Rome, Ann and I set out for a week in Tuscany. If you have never been there, Tuscany is one of the world’s great spots. Every place you turn is beautiful and gives you a different perspective. It is the kind of place you cannot get tired of. It has wonderful small places dating back centuries, places like San Gimignano and Pienze. Pienze is a place where they make the wonderful pecorino cheese, the whole town smelled like the cheese just as our son (who studied in Siena several years ago) told us it would.
We went to Siena in time to see a preliminary of the Palio horse race. This race has been run in Siena for centuries; each of the “Contrada” or neighborhoods in Siena is represented by a horse and for the winning Contrada it is a big deal indeed. We were lucky enough to be able to join one Contrada for dinner following the preliminary (the night before the final). There were hundreds of people at this outdoor feast and this particular Contrada was buzzing with excitement as it had reason to believe its horse had a good shot at winning the final the next day. Which is exactly what happened!
Of course, no trip to Tuscany is complete without a trip to Florence with its many iconic views – as well as its legendary Uffizi art museum and the Academia, which houses Michelangelo’s David. We did all of these things and I can tell you that seeing the real David was enough to convince me that all of the fakes one sees in various gardens and elsewhere should be destroyed because they do not match up. And he carved David during the period between his 27th and 29th birthdays! Wow!
Our last night in Tuscany, we had dinner in a small restaurant with a great view of the Tuscan countryside in the village of Certaldo, near the house where we stayed. Following dinner, I was informed that the cook wanted to meet me; his name is Principato! On further discussion I found out his first name is Salvatore, which happens to be my dad’s name. We “cousins” had a great chat and it was a wonderful way to wrap up our trip.
Given the depth of the Euro crisis and the impact Europe’s economic woes are having on the rest of the world, I spent much time trying to observe what was going on and quizzing people about it. I did not find a single Italian with an optimistic word to say about the future, which was discouraging. I also noted that the place still shuts down for two hours every day. And when we were in Rome, that city shut down for a whole day to observe the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul; then when we were in Certaldo a few days later THAT town shut down for the feast of ITS patron saint. Being a church going Catholic doesn’t make me an expert, but I think most days are the feast of some saint or other. So, someplace in Italy, some town or other is shut down almost every day! All of that sounds nice and quaint to us Americans, and I suppose it is. But when the rest of the world refuses to work that way it tells me Italy must either change or fall further behind. I hope it does change its approach to things related to the economy, while retaining the charm that makes it one of the world’s most wonderful countries.