Sunday, October 25, 2009
Monte San Savino
Monte San Savino, near Arezzo, is described in only one of our guidebooks as one of the prettiest hill towns in Tuscany. It is only by good luck that we are here. I contacted a number of people about house exchanges, and Molly Kellogg was the only one who was interested. Her house was here, and I set about trying to find out about it. Most places had no information. I was worried. Our Italian teacher, Federico, said he had been here once to go to water park. That gave me the willies. Turns out that there is an entire modern town surrounding this old historical village.
Here is a great clue for future travelers in Italy: If you haven't heard of a place, if it isn't in the guide books, go there. The people will be glad to see you, they will be interested in you, they will be curious about you. That's a good thing, because you will get to interact with Italians rather than be part of the ever-changing parade of faceless, annoying tourists.
Molly and Mark's house here in Monte San Savino is divine. It's four stories tall, and a block thick. The block is two rooms wide--the green shutters one sees from the main street (the living room and master bedroom side) echo the green shutters above the front door (the kitchen and second bedroom) that one sees from the piazza on the main street. The street of Via Sansovino, where the front door is, is so narrow that Chris can stretch out his arms and almost touch each wall. Molly has alerted us that her neighbor across the street will be curious about us, and if we are hanging out our clothes in the morning on the line that stretches across the face of our building at third story level, she will come and hang her clothes out, too, and will ask us about where we live and our children.
The house is a pleasure to live in. Molly has a wonderful eye, and Mark has helped decorate. The furniture seems to belong here, along with the red tile floors and the white drapes and shutters on the inside of the windows. Branches of dried laurels make a nest on top of her sturdy old cabinet in the kitchen. In the corner table-high hearth, she's laid a fire for us, and it also is aswirl with dried laurel branches. Baskets and textiles hang on the walls, an old cradle nests kitchen utensils under the big prep table in the kitchen.
Because Mark (The Food Hunter) is a passionate cook, there's everything we need here to make our own meals except sharp knives. He has one sharp knife that's like a small, light cleaver. Other cleavers are sharp, too. I usually travel with a couple of knives, and I didn't, thinking that Mark would have that covered. It's hard to prepare carrots with a cleaver, and I've been working very, very carefully so that I don't cleave anything living...
Yesterday early afternoon we went to the fish shop down the main street, where the proprietress, Maria Louisa, sold us a branzino. It was the most expensive fish in the shop at 12 E, and it fed us both just barely. It felt terribly extravagant, but when I considered that it came from the Mediterranean, not far from here, and that we pay the same amount at home for fish that was caught in Alaska, I felt better about it. She had three fish, a bag of clams, a few shrimp, and some seppia and calamari left; the fish had come in Friday, and it was Saturday. I asked her if she would clean it for me, and she said, "Of course, and I'll take off the scales, too!" When she returned with the fish, I asked how to cook it, and she got a bright look on her face and said, "Wait a moment!" She scurried to the back and returned with a jar filled with green sauce in her hand. She opened the fish and salted it inside then spread some of the sauce in the cavity. She held the sauce out to me to smell, saying, "Parsley, oil, a little garlic, that's all."
She lay the fish on some foil, tied it closed with string, then spread more sauce on the top. She told me to open the foil, put a little more oil under the fish and to cook it in a hot oven.
We thanked her and walked home with our fish, proud as if we had caught it ourselves. With it we had an endive salad with sweet Abaste pears, fresh walnuts (cracked with the side of the cleaver on the already-distressed wooden table), and sweet Gorgonzola. For dessert, we walked around the corner and out the village gate to a gelateria.
La bella vita in bella Italia.