And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

onsdag 14. august 2013

Travels in Tuscany, part 3 - The Way to Dusty Death

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death
- The Tragedy of Macbeth, William Shakespeare

View from my room at Casachianti

During my stay in Tuscany I stayed at a wine farm turned bed & breakfast called Casachianti, situated seven kilometers outside of Certaldo and belonging to the village of Fiano. The B&B is a lovely old building with three very spacious rooms and a restaurant downstairs, and I became very pleased with the venue due to its old-fashioned aesthetics and its spaciousness - so pleased, in fact, that I wasn't too bothered by the lack of Internet access. Its distance from the city of Certaldo lent a mild serenity to the surroundings, and when looking out on the landscape I could see the rolling hills stretch far and wide, covered in grapevine or olive trees, and the air was heavily perfumed by the Italic pines and various roadside plants whose names I don't know. I had missed this perfume sorely ever since my last trip to Italy in 2008, and I spent much time leaning out of the window and breathe in the fragrance. Casachianti, in sum, is a very idyllic location and I enjoyed my time there immensely.

However, nothing on earth can be truly paradisical without some kind of antagonistic element. In the Tuscan countryside this antagonistic element is the traffic. There is, sadly, a large grain of truth to the various jokes and stereotypes pertaining to the Italian way of driving, and during my stay at Casachianti I would become well acquainted with this facet of Italian culture. Although Casachianti's remote location was a balm to the mind after a busy, long conference day, it presented a major obstacle when it came to transport. The B&B is, as stated, situated seven kilometers from Certaldo, and due to the recend economic troubles, the local government had recently decided to reduce the bus schedule to a bare minimum, and I never encountered a bus heading for Certaldo as long as I was there. I did have the phone number to the B&B's regular taxi driver, but if I were to use his services both to and from Certaldo I would spend far more money than I was willing to do. The only logical solution was, of course, to hitch-hike.

Had I been a woman I believe I would have hesitated to hitch-hike through the Italian countryside on my own, but being an elderly-looking man I decided to rely on the kindness of strangers for my transport into town. I had high hopes in this cunning plan, since my stereotypical Italian driver is, among other things, a social creature who likes helping other people. This stereotype proved to be largely incorrect, as I had to walk quite a distance before a kind stranger did at last show me some needed mercy from the scorching sun.

The first day I tried this strategy I was picked up by a truly stereotypical Italian. He was a middle-aged man, he had half-long hair with certain dimly grey streaks, a moustache, sun-glasses and a pink shirt carefully unbuttoned at the top, driving a black cabriolet through the Tuscan landscape to the sound of Italian techno music. It was a spectacularly strange experienced and I savoured every minute of it.

The second day I was aided by another kind man, who was not particularly stereotypical but nonetheless looked the way Italians in their sixties often look in mafia movies. Unlike my first patron, this man spoke perfect English and turned out to be a painter with a studio in Certaldo Alto, and it was envigorating to hear him talk about his business. I was invited to drop by whenever I had the time, but although I did set aside an hour for this purpose, I couldn't find his studio despite directions. I hope I get the chance later.

The third day I tried hitch-hiking (which was the fifth day of my stay), I was picked up by a man at my own age, who kindly drove me all the way to Certaldo even though he lived outside the city centre. Like many Italians his English was a bit lacking, yet it was far better than my Italian, although I had some spirited conversations with my taxi driver, despite the fact that his English vocabulary contained little beyond "okay".

While waiting for the bus, I was visited by a beautiful rose chafer

These experiences lay behind my optimism when I left for the train station the last day. I left Casachianti very early in the morning and ventured into the Tuscan hillscape while the sun was still merely a promise. It was somewhat chilly in the air, yet I recall that the swallows were already chirping wildly in the trees, having taken over the watch from the nightly cicadas. On my previous wanderings in the area I had learned a few important lessons - such as never, ever stand at level with the car when you hear someone coming around a bend - and I threaded the narrow road as the bends demanded, lugging my heavy suitcase with me. Eventually, I noticed a change in the light and saw that the sun was rising behind one of the narrow ridges, and although there were several drivers racing through down the road, none of them were willing to take me on board. Consequently, I was forced to walk through the Tuscan morning on my own while the sun climbed steadily into the air, trying my best to dodge the onslaught of Italian drivers who seemed to care little about any signs urging them to slow down for the sake of the children. About one hour and a half later, however, I arrived at the train station.

It was a very mixed experience to walk seven kilometers through the Tuscan hills like that. On the plus side, I got to see the landscape in a rapidly changing light which few people ever see, and it was a very beautiful scenery that surrounded me all the way from the rugged hilltops of Fiano to the vague suburbia of Certaldo. However, it was also a very demanding journey as I time and again had to keep out of the way for motocars seemingly intent on scissoring the roadside bushes, and I had to cross the road several times in order to keep a clear view when the road became particularly winding. I'm very glad I've done it, if for nothing else than that it was a rather unique experience, but it is very evident that that Tuscan countryside is not very suitable for pedestrians. The roads are narrow, the drivers are fast and - or so it appears - very reckless with what they might run over in the process, and you can't abandon the road in the hope of finding a deer track or walk along the vineyards, for the soil is crumbly and there are thorny bushes stretching along the ground which you rarely see before you stand ankle-deep in them. The beauty of Tuscany should therefore, in other words, be chiefly enjoyed in a car when traversing long distances, and the apostles' horses should only be used when exploring some immediate vicinity.


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