My last trip to Florence was jam-packed. I arrived at 8:30 a.m. to shop at the Mercato Centrale and the San Lorenzo street market, then wandered around my old neighborhoods, greeting people I haven’t seen in a few months, and then headed out to the Sant’Ambrogio marketplace for some mozzarella di bufala from Salerno (and to see my friend, Gennaro—who sells it). On the way to the market, I literally “ran into” friends Pall and Birgit from Cinque Terre, in a chance meeting on the street. We had lunch together in my favorite restaurant, and then I took the train to Rifredi to see Anne, my friend with the LVAD heart pump, and to visit with Alain and with Anne’s sister, Kathleen, visiting from Hawaii. From there, I met Irmy in the Piazza Repubblica for a dinner of wine and appetizers, and later spent that night with her at her apartment. She knocked my socks off the next morning when she took me to tour her “school,” a former Medici family villa with a rich history and incredible artwork inside, everywhere we turned.
By noon, it was time for “the hand-off.” My friend Pat Hanna, who lives outside Florence in the tiny mountain town of Santa Brigida, picked me up at Irmy’s apartment and drove me back to Spello, where she spent a couple of nights with me. We had some absolutely perfect weather, and started her stay with a “walkabout” in Spello, where she got to see the streets being torn up during the huge project of updating the infrastructure—sewer, water, power, and fiber optic lines replacing ancient plumbing under the old streets. She quickly suggested that I get out my camera and capture “Old Spello” in a hurry, since the shiny cobbled streets are being dug up and replaced with new stones and bricks—an attempt at keeping the village charm for the tourists, but just not the same as the old worn alleys and streets with all of the character of at least a century of wear.
Pat and I headed off on a favorite hike, along the trail of the Roman “acquadotto,” the aqueduct that was restored in a huge UNESCO Heritage Site project just a couple of years ago. It is about 6 km. to Collepino, a tiny village around the south side of Mount Subasio made of the local pink limestone, and we had to wait for our turn on the chaise lounge with the view of Spello between our feet—but it is a “must” reward for that particular hike. Pat looked so very peaceful and serene there, and was not all that anxious to get moving on finishing the hike—until we found more ripe figs along the trail that we “liberated” for our own enjoyment.
Flavio, the owner, was in his La Locanda bar in Collepino when we arrived tired and thirsty, and we quickly ordered two draught beers. He got out some special bread, and added slices of wonderful pecorino cheese to the plate, insisting that we enjoy some samples with our beer. It’s always a treat to get a good dose of his enthusiasm, and his rock music, and his expertise about the foods of his native Bergamo, far north in Lombardy (near Milan). Pat and I headed back along the same trail, downhill to Spello, where we feasted on a dinner of fresh taglierini pasta with wild mushrooms that Pat had collected near Bologna a week or so earlier—absolutely fantastic, and we didn’t die. (Always a good outcome with wild mushrooms—as is avoiding a liver transplant.)
We finished our hike and were off to the Pissignano street antiques fair, when we recalled that we had just driven through Arezzo the day before, not once realizing that the huge Arezzo antiques fair was going on that day—or we might have stopped to scout for treasures. Pissignano is rather like a hybrid of an antique fair and a garage sale, with many serious vendors alongside those cleaning out granddad’s fondo and trying to make some money from the old dusty stuff he left behind years ago. I did find two new things to bring home: a hand-carved wooden collar with a cow’s bell, and a smaller metal collar with a high-pitched goat’s bell. Both were hung on my kitchen wall while Pat was driving home to Santa Brigida the next afternoon.
On her last day, after we had stopped the evening before at the Enoteca Properzio and had sampled some premium wines with Roberto, the owner, we headed out to find cantinas where we could taste more of the wines from the producers we had sampled. We found the Tili cantina, where they produce a “bio-dynamic” Grechetto wine, but the family was eating lunch and told us to come back later. Instead, we stopped at the Sportoletti cantina and tasted (and purchased) some of their wines. Our hostess was very well versed on their wines, and every question that Pat asked was quickly answered, with confidence and with detailed information.
Soon, it was time for Pat to head back to Santa Brigida, with work the next day, and packing to do before she headed off for her vacation back to the US for a couple of weeks. We had seized the only opportunity we had to spend a couple of days together, thanks to her travel both for work and for her vacation, and she has come to love being in Spello as I do. We ate well, drank great wines (including ones she brought—certainly nice to have a generous sommelier for a friend), and had a perfect October weekend for another hike to Collepino together. It’s always a pleasure to spend time together, exchanging stories and keeping connected the best we can. Although we lived most of our lives 6000 miles apart, we share many of the same experiences and interests, and our lives have been parallel in many ways—we are each a lucky find for the other.