Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dreaming of Tuscany

Chianti  rooftop
This summer I'm sticking close to home.  It's not entirely by choice: my study tour to Santiago, Chile fell through; I couldn't round up enough students.  But maybe it's for the best.  There's writing to be done, dogs to be cuddled, an old house to be, if not renovated, at least whatever's the opposite of completely neglected.

So instead of travelling, I'm torturing myself by reading Marlena De Blasi's A Thousand Days in Tuscany, the follow-up to her memoir A Thousand Days in Venice.  I generally have a love-hate relationship with travel memoirs; they almost always make we want to toss the book aside, tie on my traveling shoes and hit the road myself.  Why read about travel when you could be doing it?


San Gimignano in the distance
But De Blasi is a vibrant and likeable guide through Italy, so in love with food and her quirky Venetian husband Fernando that she makes me forget my own restlessness and envy.  Everything drops away, and for the moment I'm in Tuscany too.  

An agriturismo in the Chianti region
Here, for instance, is a passage that won me all the way over:

"I have never before gathered eggs from under a hen.  Fernando has never before seen a hen.  We bend low into the shed where perch a dozen or so fat lady birds.  There's no shrieking or fluttering at all.  I approach one and ask her if she has an egg or two.  Nothing.  I ask in Italian.  Still nothing.  I ask Fernando to pick her up but he's already outside the shed smoking and pacing, telling me he really doesn't like eggs at all and he especially doesn't like frittata.  Both bold-faced lies.  I start to move the hen and she plumps down from her perch quite voluntarily, uncovering the place where two lovely brown eggs sit.  I take them, one at a time, bend down and nestle them in my sack.  I want two more.  I peruse the room.  I choose the hen who sits next to the docile one.  I pick her up and she pecks me so hard on my wrist that I drop her.  I see there is nothing in her nest and apologize for my insensitivity, thinking her nastiness must have been cause by embarrassment.  I move on to another hen and this time find a single, paler brown-shelled beauty, still warm and stuck all over with bits of straw. I take it and leave with an unfamiliar thrill.  This is my first full day in Tuscany and I've robbed a henhouse before lunch."


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