Everything you think you know about Tuscany is pretty much true. It’s beautiful and old and there are olives and cheese and wine. And sheep and cows and pigs. And stone walls. And twisty, narrow roads. It’s beautiful and odd. The buildings, from stables and pig wallows to castles and churches are “protected” from any external alteration. Evidently, one can do anything on the inside but not on the outside, other than maintenance and upkeep. This means that there is a frozen-in-time quality which, while beautiful, is not exactly dynamic. It’s dreamlike, wonderful for a vacation but I wonder what it is like to live in a place where the 16th century is still the prevailing architectural influence. What happens when a culture looks back for its sense of value instead of to the future? It’s the same question that Maine and other places of historic importance or natural beauty have to ask and answer. I never really thought about it before but as there is more and more to preserve (buildings, cars, books, art…), how do we choose what to keep and what to let go to make way for the future?
We stayed for four days just south of Siena at a place called Spannocchia, an organic farm and agritourismo in a sixteenth century castle. When we arrived around 5 in the afternoon, we were told that there was an art exhibition in the small building, which was probably a stable at some point, right next to the building in which we were staying. We stopped by to see what was going on and began talking to an American woman who, as it turned out, was the instructor for a week-long watercolor class that was ending with this exhibition. In chatting, we discovered that she lived on the same road in West Bath, Maine that is home to my best friend from the age of three years old. We were in Italy, in a 16th century building, talking to a woman who lives a quarter mile from someone I have known for more than 65 years. Time and space collapsed at that moment.
Leaving home is a good thing. It allows us to see the most common of aspects of life…eating, landscape, architecture, weather, foliage, driving, music, art…in a new way. But returning home is a good thing, too. Not everything has to be considered. In our own homes, we know where the glasses are. We know how to flush the toilets and the roadsigns are recognizable and legible. It’s just easier. But I wouldn’t give up those interludes of strangeness for anything.