After saying Arrivederci to my tour guests in Florence, I decided to spend a week in southern Tuscany, where I also have roots. There are missing family members and my hope, in particular, was to find a little girl, name unknown, who was sent to a convent because the family was too poor to care for her. Little did I know how many doors would open for me.
My grandfather, Ottavio (Otto), emigrated from Pitigliano to Indiana in 1913. His brother’s descendants still live on the nearby farm he grew up on and as I tell the story in my book, I serendipitously found them by following clues in my grandmother’s 1963 journals when she and Otto returned to their respective Tuscan hometowns after almost 50 years.
Pitigliano is a medieval city perched on a cliff, the deep ravines lead to two rivers and this defensive position served an early civilization here about three thousand years ago, the Etruscans. Etruscan tombs and deeply carved roads that connect places are like nothing else you have ever imagined existed.
Entrance to Etruscan Road
How to describe this city, that feels like a giant vault of stone? From afar, it is awe-inspiring, especially at dusk when the light strikes the expanse of it and it is like a page torn out of a medieval fairy tale.
It is the light of Italy that I believe creates most of its beauty for us– infusing the landscape, illuminating walls, nudging the faces of sunflowers towards the sun, shifting the watercolor reflections of the Arno River.
Here, I am living in a dense heart of stone for a week and at night, the walls and extremely narrow passages are very dark, illuminated by lamps. It’s November, so while it is unseasonably mild during the day, it is chilly at night and the stone gives no warmth. It is as silent as a tomb to sleep here, enclosed by ponderous walls of tufa, the volcanic rock that everything is made of.
There are few people. Any tourists who venture here come when it’s high season and even then, there are no real crowds. This city has been discovered by artists and I am astounded by the studios that are tucked into the cantinas and caves. Sculptors, painters, weavers, artists working in paper, ceramics and jewelry – there is very little of the souvenir trade in Pitigliano.
Case in point: I see a sign with an arrow down stone steps. Looking down, I see a giant weaving that is displayed against the edge of the city, sky as background. It is bright red. I have to go see it. As I make my way down, there is a white kitten basking in a place in a stone wall, having found the light. I turn the corner and find the artist working in what is almost a cave. Opera music is playing and I am drawn in.
Agnes, of Hungarian origin, but who fell in love with Italy twenty-five years ago creates amazing objects out of mohair and wool – objects that can be worn or illuminated with candles. There is another level, something akin to an Etruscan tomb entry and I am astounded at the magic she has created here.
I buy a soft white wool and mohair sculpture that when a tea candle is set in water inside, creates a soft glow of light. Since arriving in Pitigliano, I am moved to light large candles in the dark stone rooms I am inhabiting (beautifully austere, like a monk’s cell with taste). I know that I will want this reminder of light in my home when I return.
Agnes explains how she has lived in many places in Italy, but has found Pitigliano to have a supportive artistic community and it is molto tranquillo. She used to have a shop on the piazza, but decided this cave suited her art more and she lets people find her.
I told her that I felt subtly seduced to follow the steps to her studio, the dark stone steps that lead to the sunlight at the edge of the cliff where the crimson hanging was visible.
As I walked away, back up the steps past the swooning white cat, I was reminded of my own intention around the works of art I create through my writing and taking small groups to Tuscany: Create your art and allow people to find their way to you. Like me, Agnes has a website and presence on social media, but that is not what is driving our respective businesses. She is not trying to sell people her art. I am not trying to sell people a tour.
The authenticity of creating any work of art is to create for yourself first and trust that it will resonate with the right people. Word of mouth remains the best marketing tool. I created the Aria Tour the way I love to experience Italy and wish to share with those like-minded.
I am unable to get internet access while “at home”. This has given me the opportunity to write without the need to connect, become distracted or keep up on social media. At first challenging, it was a blessing.
Instead, I go the café and check email if I wish. Along the way, I encounter people who I have met – the sculptor, the owner of the restaurant (called Chiave del Paradiso – the Keys of Paradise), the lady who owns a wine shop, the butcher who is always whistling.
I also walk the quiet streets at night, where I know torches were lit before street lamps appeared. I come home out of the darkness, light all the candles inside and light the fire.
I think about how my grandfather found his way out of this place to America. I think about what it must have been like to live in the Middle Ages in this city of stone. I think about why I am here, why I have chosen to spend a week here.
I find myself often saying, “Otto, I am here. Where are you?” Show me. Show me what made you. Help me find that little girl.
I found two more uncles – one who died in World War 1, 16 or 17 years old – Giovanni Faenzi – who is included in a grove of trees in the cemetery, a memorial to the fallen soldiers. And Pasqualino – born on Easter (Pasqua is the name for Easter in Italian). I have brought them back into the family circle of memory.
Although I may have found the convent, I did not yet find this girl who was my great aunt. I think she is just shy and wants me to come back. Which I will.
The Fall Aria Tour just ended. We were blessed with perfect weather every day. And the olive harvest was underway, where some of my guests participated in picking olives on the villa estate! One person remarked, “This has taken me back to my childhood.”
Here are additional comments:
“Carol and Alessandra attended to every detail – all I had to do was soak up the beauty which is the Villa and Tuscany. There are no words to express how I felt while I was there.” – Deb M., Indianapolis
“Carol shares the wealth of her personal contacts in Tuscany that enable access to intriguing and historically significant experiences simply not available to tourists. We enjoyed exquisite food and wine, along with the warmth of so many welcoming people. The time spent with Alessandra learning about the Medici’s impact on the world, exploring Michelangelo’s life both inside and outside of his art, and being given insights into the great buildings of Florence was incredibly exciting. Truly, an unforgettable experience." – Kurt and Julie T., Indianapolis
More and more people are traveling to Italy these days which is putting a lot of pressure on the major tour cities such as Rome, Venice and Florence. The high season of summer is starting earlier and ending later, so that May and October are still somewhat crowded.
While weather can be unpredictable in early Spring and late Fall, I have decided that traveling at these times is much more pleasant. It’s when I want to be there, so I invite you to join me April 7 – 18. One week after Easter.
I have brought back beautiful things from Tuscany to share with you for the holidays: Tuscan kitchen linens, hand-carved olive wood items and best of all: the new harvest of Tuscan Olive Oil, cultivated by people I know and trust. In fact, I was there while the olives were being hand-picked and pressed! There is nothing like it. Join me on Saturday afternoon, December 2nd. To register, click here