The daily diary of a wandering restaurateur
May 14 - The Road to Cortona

All good things must end, of course, and it hardly seems like a week has passed since our brave little band of adventurers first got together. The Krumps and the Chesters are off to Bologna where Rick and Jo will catch a plane for Amsterdam and then to Seattle on Monday.

Don and Sharon will be in Italy for another few days, most likely up in the lakes country, then to Paris for a church conference and on to Berlin to see friends. They lived in Berlin at the time that the wall came down -- talk about being an eyewitness to history!

Our day was less ambitious. Saturday is change-over day for all the rental properties, so the typical drill is to be out by 10am and check in after 5pm. This is great if you are just coming or going, but when you are going from one to another -- and if you are at all nervous about parking your car when everything you brought with you is in it (and you (should!) -- it means a lot of driving around. But hey, we are Americans. We know how to kill time burning up fossil fuel!

The first stop had to be the car wash. Our poor little Alfa was totally trashed by bugs on the road and pollen from the trees. Yesterday Don had spotted an autolevaggio behind one of the "big box" stores we visited and it was on our way. Little did we know that in addition to getting the car washed, we would make a new friend.

The carwash is presided over by Massimo Pelliccia. It is his retirement business. He didn't exactly plan it that way, but when he decided to return home to Italy after working 15 years in South Africa, he learned that lack of banking reciprocity between the two countries effectively wiped out his pension. So he is home ... and happy ... but still working.

Massimo does point up an indisputable fact -- Italian people are cool. You know it, and they know it ... and they know that you know it. They know that you wish you were as cool as they are and they also know that you know that is never going to happen. So they put up with you to a point but I imagine that being totally accepted as one of them would take a long time ... and probably a culture transplant!

Italians dress well and value style. This does not mean Armani day and night as much as it is reflected in the ease with which they wear fashion. Out of economic necessity they will put up with the t-shirts, shorts and sandals of the tourists tromping through their national treasures, but if you dress a little better, you get a little more respect. Only the high end restaurants require jacket-and-tie formality, but you want to dress well, if casually, for dinner.

We spent the rest of the day driving around. First to Cortona to make sure we knew where to meet our host when it was finally time to get into the next house, then to Montepulciano to make the "big" wine buy of the trip. Poliziano Vino Nobile de Montepulciano Asinone 2000 was the top-rated Nobile last year and although the winery is only open occasionally for tours, I know where their store is in town. Given that we still had everything in the car, I figured out how to drive to the top of town and get close to their outlet store. I sure didn't want to climb to the upper piazza then carry half a case of wine all the way back down again! Margene stayed in the car and napped -- smart girl!

We were not all that hungry, but figured that lunch would kill some more time, so we found a pleasant little pizzeria by the side of the road and stopped. Italians tend to eat their larger meal mid-day so they were not making pizza until the evening. But when in Italy, why not eat like the Italians? So it was bruschetta, proscuitto and melon, penne carbonara, penne arrabiata, a half liter of the local red and some espresso to finish it all off. Tonight we will nibble.

Late in the afternoon we finally connected with Augusto, the young owner of our home for the next week. We are staying in an elegant apartment in Villa Bietolini, an aristocratic property which dates back to 1773. It is situated at the base of the hill where the ancient town of Cortona watches over the valley of the Valdichiana. While it has certainly seen better days, it still retains its patrician charm, including some antique furnishings that we are told date back to the year 700 ... and some very cool features that I will fill you in on tomorrow.

While it is going to seem very quiet without two other couples around, I can already see that we will probably drink a little less, eat a LOT less and get more rest without the social obligations. I wouldn't have traded last week for anything but some quiet time with just the two of us will provide a nice balance.

Goodbyes and Hellos

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