Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More Italy Adventures

Sunday, May 20, 2007
The attendees are beginning to arrive. Glenda and her husband from England, Yvonne from NY and Annette from Australia. It is going to be a fun International week.

Lane’s stocker has returned to AU. He continued to be friendly, but no longer invited us to share wine or champagne. However, I think if Lane had shown the tiniest bit of interest, he would have bowed at her feet. She found him entirely repulsive.

I’ve decided to lose 20 yrs and 100 lbs and then pursue our Italian dandy. He now smiles and greets me warmly – and he has such a delightful smile. I’m certain he is convinced that I’m some wealthy old American broad who may purchase his condo, and therefore it is necessary to give the appearance of being nice. He spends the entire day pacing with a cell phone glued to his ear. Mafioso comes to mind when watching him. It makes for fun conversation with Lane.

Last evening, we had dinner at a little family restaurant in the heart of Pienza. They were busy with mostly locals – it was interesting to watch and listen. Our housekeeper from the hotel was there. She is elderly and so pleasant; always smiling. I would like to know if she lives in one of the beautiful old houses in town – but she speaks NO English and my Italian is li
mited to food requests. Hmmm – that doesn’t seem to fit with losing those 100lbs.

As much as I love it here, I could not bear the summers. The weather has been very pleasant (by my standards) until today. It is warm and the sun is beastly. I believe I would enjoy the winter and early spring – making me a perfect candidate for that time- share system I’m working on developing. I would be happy with the off season.

Monday, May 21, 2007
We had our first dinner together as a group last evening. A total of 26 and it was delightful. I’m thrilled that they are pleased with Pienza, the hotel and this area of Tuscany. The countryside is beyond picturesque. It defies description; most have never traveled and they are in awe.

At the hotels in the States, we are accustomed to having coffee service and water in our sleeping and meeting rooms as standard procedure. This is a new and foreign concept to the Italians. Coffee is made by the cup – not pot, and it is an art form. Some of the women are having difficulty being patient in the morning. There is no Starbucks here, no drive-thru, and no immediate caffeine stimulus. By this time, Lane and I have grown to love the staff as family, and we were a bit disturbed when we noticed some of our people being a bit abrupt when coffee didn’t appear immediately.

To get an immediate early morning coffee fix, Lane purchased a coffee press. It was quite the adventure as we visited the local hardware store and attempted to communicate with the proprietor. He looked at us with complete disdain as we entered the store. It was obvious that he was not happy with tourists and felt that his business was for the locals only. I had learned that Italians do not ‘window shop’ as we do. They enter a store intending to make a purchase and often we Americans are perceived as rude when we blow thru a store – just looking. To be accepted graciously, we need to ask permission to browse. Posso guardare? As soon as I asked the elderly owner this question, our attempts to communicate with him continued with smiles.

We began our class with Lesley this morning and spent the day painting pages and backgrounds for our books. The project is fun and will be a great journal/memento of our trip.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Lane, Julie and I had a great time in class today. Lesley is such a marvelous instructor. She has a very calming presence. We do have a great group of women, some I’m sure will be life long acquaintances. I reminded the group that we are in Italy –to please be patient and enjoy the different culture. Breakfast went better, and all are happy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I had organized a bus trip to Siena for today. It is market day in the city, and there are also many interesting shops and churches to visit. I worried that the bus would not arrive on time, and fretted that I would have a group of unhappy people. The bus was late, as is the Italian way, but I could finally relax after my people were on board and heading for their ‘field trip’. Since I have been to Siena twice, I elected to remain in Pienza and to have a day to myself.

I learned that the hotel owner, Carlo, who now speaks & is more gracious to us, is married to Annarita who works in the office and restaurant. She speaks no English, but she is wonderful and works very hard to make everyone happy. They seem like an unlikely pair, but who am I to judge. Annarita is friendly, and down to earth – full of hugs and smiles. So unlike Carlo. He still remains the stiff business man.

Borjana is like our daughter, she is 40, tall and sexy. She was born in Sarajevo, moved to Italy when she was 12. She also speaks German and French. She has no time for slackers and runs a tight ship. I guess you would call her the hotel manager.

Claudia and Nico are our servers in the restaurant. Claudia is cute as a button and Nico works his butt off taking care of my group. Our chef is Elena and her meals are amazing.

We are becoming very spoiled; can pretty much order anything and Elena will fix it for us. The restaurant and hotel are still so new to the city, that business is slow, so we can be easily accommodated. Here is an excerpt about the hotel’s history:

In 1935 the Pienza community decided to put up a recreational building; in its first years, thanks also to the patronage of the Pienzan baritone Benvenuto Franci, the theatre has moments of true splendour.To inaugurate the theatre Franci gave an unforgettable performance of the "Rigoletto", which was followed by a series of operas, including the "Barber of Seville".
These superb performances by Benvenuto, together with those of his brother, the tenor Tommaso Franci, another famous Italian opera singer of those days, brought fame and glory to the theatre, that became the most important theatre and dance hall of the town until the Second World War, when it was completely destroyed by a bomb. After the War, the building was partly restored and transformed into a cinema by the local veterans, and remained as such until the end of the fifties. Having been abandoned for several years, the building is now an important part of a large reconstruction project, which is turning the entire surroundings into an area for tourist reception. The first part of the project has been completed and this building is now a modern, efficient hotel residence, with elegant and refined fully serviced rooms, suites and apartments.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Today I skipped school and accompanied Borjana into Arezzo to shop for hotel supplies. We went to a wholesale restaurant/hotel business – quite different than those at home. The items were all displayed in showrooms that were elaborate and gorgeous. More like a department store than wholesale. I would have loved to spend a few hours there, but as most businesses, they close from noon until three and we had to hurry. I did purchase a beautiful Italian platter and salad bowl and a set of flatware for the new house.

From Arezzo, we drove to a high fashion outlet mall. Even at outlet mall standards, the prices were ridiculous. A pair of shoes was €160. Regular price was €320. The Italians are such fashionistas. And I dress as though I am ready to plow the fields.

We finished our class session with Lesley on Friday the 25th. By this time, we have all become quite close and it was a bittersweet ending. Saturday for our last day together as a group, I hired a tour guide and bus to take us into the country.

We visited an incredible Monastery, Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore in the Provience of Siena approximately 1hr from Pienza. Unfortunately for me, it involved many stairs and a long walk down a steep cobblestone road. My scooter is wonderful, but it does not have enough ‘oomph’ to climb up hill. For a short distance, my companions get behind me and give me a boost --- but I was not about to let them suffer this great distance, so I remained in the entry plaza. Everyone took wonderful photos of the frescos, so I am able to enjoy the experience thru their eyes.

From there we ventured to Montalcino, which is another lovely hill village that is known primarily for its Brunello wine. Brunello, is the signature wine of Tuscany's tiny commune of Montalcino, and it holds a special place in the hearts of Italian wine aficionados. Its broad structure and harmony of unusual aromas distinguishes it as a truly noble wine exempt from imitation.

In the pantheon of wine judging, the recognition Brunello receives in the international press generally ranks it among the world's - not just Italy's - best wines. And by the prices willingly paid by collectors - bottles have sold in the hundreds of dollars at recent auctions - its cachet is undisputable. Here is a link to the site that further describes the wine in interesting detail: http://www.thewinenews.com/octnov00/cover.html. There were wine shops and tasting galore. I like it all and could purchase cases to bring home.

We returned to Pienza in time to refresh before our last dinner together. It was a wonderful evening with a great feast prepared by Elena. I was thrilled that my group wanted to gather tips for Elena, Claudia and Nico. I always include a generous tip to the hotel staff as part of my A&S budget for events, but to have something come directly from the attendees is very special. We asked Borjana to bring them into the dining room after dinner and to translate what I said. It was quite an emotional moment, obviously something that has not happened for them in the past.

We all got a bit teary as we said ‘arrivederci’ to one another with sincere promises to re-unite in 2009.

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