Wednesday 30 May 2018

A pendulous week

After the departure of Mom and Yvonne, life swung 'back to normal' for us on our little hillside.
The definition of normal varies here though, and normal this coming week meant grass cutting... again!

As the weather steadily warms as we head towards June and the rain refuses to abate completely, the surrounding greenery has got a little carried away, and whereas we can usually cut the grass and forget about it for four weeks, this time around having done just that the grass had become longer than was comfortable to cut - but cutting it (desperately) needed!

We toiled away at our day jobs during the week, struggling a little to get back into our daily routine, which wasn't helped in the slightest by having to spend six hours on Friday fixing a very unhappy computer (a Windows update that turned out to be incompatible with a certain anti-virus programme had led to the entire contents of Helen's computer vanishing). So, with the promise of some sunny weather and temperatures heading towards 30 degrees, we were relieved to turn our attentions to grass cutting as well as putting in some irrigation to keep the mushroom logs damp.

After spending half a day servicing the two strimmers (greasing everything, changing the oil, replacing a spark plug and fixing an off-switch), it was time to get on with the 16 man hours involved in cutting all the grass we now have after having cleared the terraces.

We toiled for 4 hours in the hot sunshine and by the time we had reached (back)breaking point at the end of the afternoon we had broken the back of the work, with just a small section of the upper terraces and those below the house around the veg garden left to do.

On Sunday morning, knowing we had the strimming 'in the bag' as it were, we headed into Pescia for coffee and pastries at Vanity, our favourite bar/pasticceria, followed by a sightseeing visit to Villa del Castellaccio on the hillside just above Pescia.

This villa is the privately owned family home of the Anzilotti family, a family that traces it roots back to the Languedoc region in France but moved here quite some time ago, and in the early 1900s the family bought the house from a well-to-do Pesciatina family by the name of Orsi.

In the summer of 1895 the Orsi family had rented this very villa to non other than composer and music maestro Giacomo Puccini, during which time he wrote the second and third acts of La Boheme... and as such, the house has quite some history.

We knew of this opportunity to visit the house (which is not usually open to the public) as the current owner, Guido Anzilotti, is an old school friend of Emanuele, our friend who runs the local circolo in the village, and we had met Guido last week when he came to our  English evening.

Originally built in the first half of the 17th century, and enlarged and remodelled around 1850, the villa was described as a grand place of 40 rooms - some of those rooms are in fact bathrooms, toilets and a larder, but it is a grand villa to say the least and the decor inside (including a scribbling on the wall of the drawing room in the hand of Giacomo Puccini declaring that he had finished the 2nd and 3rd acts of La Boheme (23 July 1895 and 17 Sept 1895, respectively)) gave an idea of just how well to do the owners of this house have been.

Villa del Castellaccio.

Puccini's fortepiano.

View of the village of Uzzano.

Looking down to the garden and beyond to the Pescia plain.

By the time we left the Villa del Castellaccio, we had realized that this open day was part of a national event in which, for one day, dozens of privately owned grand villas, gardens and courtyards were open to the public, and we left with a map and information which we poured over at lunch whilst hiding from the sun under the pergola.

It didn't take us long to decide to ditch the strimming in what was now 30 degree heat, allow the pendulum to swing back from 'normal' into 'time-off' and head over in the direction of Lucca to have a look around some of the other houses that were open.

Soon, we were touring the Lucchese foothills in our little Panda feeling like we were on holiday instantly... what a lovely afternoon!

We started off at Villa Torrigiani di Camigliano, a ridiculously grand place we had found some months back (in the winter) but had only peered at from the other side of the closed gates. This time, the gates were open and we spent a good 40 minutes wandering around the grounds. The surrounding garden was like a small arboretum, home to some trees that must have been approaching 120 years old and which were taller that the enormous Villa. There were prettily laid out flower gardens with box hedge borders, a small grotto with some seriously eroded statues of the gods, an old wine cellar in which the last year of production seemed to have been 1982 (based on the years chalked onto the large oak casks), and a now empty fish pond, the purpose of which we were undecided on: pretty ornamental fish to look at, or edible types to supply the inhabitants and their guests with fresh fish?

Villa Torrigiani di Camigliano.

An old stable block?

Peeking through the window.

The back gate.

The fishing pond.

Check out the irrigation!

He's seen better days.

Inside the cantina.

Old barrels.

More old barrels.

Fruit press.

A bath?

Wine barrels.

The chapel on the edge of the grounds had an antechamber - was it for servants who weren't allowed in the main chapel, or the gentry who didn't want to mix with the riff-raff of the village?

You've have had to look through a screen to see what was going on in the main chapel.

V poor shot of the inside of the main chapel.

A glimpse into another world for sure.

We then found our way to Fattoria Gambaro di Petrognano, home of Count and Countess Gambaro, whom we met briefly as they passed in a hurry to go and look after guests in their restaurant. They seemed to have their hands full but told us to go through and have a look around the house and gardens, just making sure we closed the gate to keep the dog inside. What incredible views from down by the pool and from the pretty shaded garden! Aside from producing wine and olive oil, the estate now earns its the necessary for its upkeep by taking in guests as an agriturismo. 

Fattoria Gambara di Petrognano.

Complete with sleepy dog.

Our final stop for the afternoon was Tenuta di Valgiana - another large old house that seems to be a rather respectable wine producer judging by the clientele in the garden.

After wandering around the gardens, we somewhat cautiously entered the house - despite the owners being there in the kitchen nobody batted an eyelid and we were left to wander around the ground floor through the kitchen, dining room and drawing room. We were stunned by the enormous kitchen, which had a wood fired oven beneath an huge chimney breast as well as an aga type oven and a gas oven, all beneath the same chimney breast! The wooden freezer with ironwork closers was from another world and to die for! You couldn't have crammed any more character into that room if you had tried! The place was full of personal effects and items that had clearly been in the family for generations.

The dining room and drawing room were similarly stuffed full of furniture and furnishings of note - clearly some very antique pieces of furniture, and two walls of the drawing room were dominated by enormous paintings that must have easily been 6ft by 6ft: on one wall the painting depicted 2-3 dogs (hunting dogs) being bitten by/biting a bear, while on the other wall the painting (clearly by the same artist) depicted 2-3 dogs being gored by/biting a boar. Not really what I'd like to spend my time looking at while relaxing, but there's no accounting for taste!

Tenuta di Valgiana

Wooden freezer!

As we made our way out of the village of Valgiana, we spotted a road that had been cordoned off and some brightly coloured floral artwork right in the middle of the road, so we parked the car and wandered over to have a look. There was no explanation of the display, but it was very reminiscent of the well dressing tradition in parts of the UK. The pictures were stunning and had been made with all sorts of imaginative materials: flower petals, whole flowers, rice, coloured rice, maize, flour, all sorts of seeds, dried beans... Judging by the freshness of the flowers (and the completeness of the pictures) they had been done just hours previously. An army of ants was already amassing and starting to make its way towards some of the more edible parts of the pictures and I'm pretty sure there would be plenty of birds to do the same once the visitors had gone away!

Pondering over our weekend back at home with a chilled bottle of Montecarlo wine, we decided that you really do get the best out of Tuscany (and quite probably the whole of Italy) by living here. There are such a huge number of events going on throughout the warmer months, most of which are poorly advertised and none quite worth organising an entire holiday around, (assuming any of the events organisers published dates early enough to organise such a trip), that you need to be here and have a finger on some form of local pulse and be flexible enough to drop everything to go and make the most of something last minute. As a holiday maker at the very best you might stumbled upon an event happening in a sleepy piazza somewhere but even then not be brave enough to venture into the middle of it.

Life is good!