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On April 2nd, 2021 by Pam Mercer

Good Friday in a Small Tuscan Village

Posted In:
Life in Tuscany | Reflections

Good Friday

By: Pam Mercer

Let me take you back to the morning of Good Friday in years past.  The Church in our small Tuscan village is filled with spring flowers, some from the fields, others from florists – and the feeling is of spring life and joy.   By sunset, the flowers are gone and in their place are the wooden statues of Mary, whose heart is pierced by an arrow and Christ, beautiful and holy and damaged.  A group of women take the statue of Mary and hoist it up on their shoulders, while a group of men take the Christ and follow behind the women.  The entire village, each person carrying a candle proceed behind.  In the past, one of the village leaders, Giancarlo would walk along the line of mourners admonishing them to keep in a two-by-two line.  He has gone on now, but his memory seems to keep us in order just the same.

We walk through the town and up the hill, singing.  Georgia and Laura lead the chanting hymns that connect us to the past and give us hope for the future.  The priest leads the way, followed by children in long white robes.  Our girls were part of the children’s procession when they were younger, and I always wondered at the generosity of the Catholic Priest who allowed our half Jewish children to participate in this ritual that was of such great significance to the community we had raised them in.

As we walk, those carrying the statue are occasionally relieved by others to take up the burden and honor of carrying the sacred.    We walk past huge bon fires made from the prunings of the olive trees, a harkening back to the Pagan times that must still be somewhere in our DNA.   We carry our candles – long and protected with a plastic covering to keep the wind from blowing them out.  There are 200 of us or more.  Some of us gossip and chat until Giancarlo’s ghost wags a finger at us and returns us to the solemnity of the moment.

At the end of the procession, the statues are set down in front of the Church and one by one we approach Mary and the Christ.  Some will touch the hem of her gown, some the wound in his side, some will kiss the feet of the venerated.  Worshiped, adored, revered, grieved: they offer a moment of connection to the divine, forgiveness and wholeness,  both in our own bodies and souls and in the body of the community.

In the end, the children take off their white robes and run to play hide and seek in the Piazza.  The statues of Mary and Jesus are moved back into the church to wait for Sunday and for the coming years when they will accompany us once again on the journey up the hill and back to our homes.

I always say that I am 1/3 Protestant, 1/3 Pagan and 1/3 Catholic.  But on Good Friday, I am simply myself participating in an ancient ritual that unites my past, present and future and reminds me of the sacredness of life and the importance of community.

Note: Our town's Good Friday celebrations are not happening this year due to COVID.

On August 27th, 2020 by Jeremy Cotroneo

Glamping in Chianti

Posted In:
Life in Tuscany | Radda | Reflections

Another “first” in this odd year that is 2020: my first time glamping… at one of Tuscany’s finest “glampsites!”

 

Finally, free from Italy’s lockdown, but with the pandemic still lurking in the shadows, my wife and I decided to take our 9-year-old nephew on an adventure.  We needed a place where we could get offline, without huge crowds, but where we could relax and shake off some of the stress of the past few months… and so a glamping trip it was!!

 

The Beautiful Chianti Region

 

We jumped in our car and slowly wound our way through vineyard-laced wooded hills, up and up, as far as we could possibly delve into the depths of Chianti.  As we approached the town of Radda in Chianti, our city-dwelling nephew commented “Wow, this town is really in the middle of nowhere!”  He was right, and that’s the beauty of exploring the bel paese.

 

The Beautiful – yet isolated – Radda in Chianti

Photo Credit: Wikipedia (Radda-in-Chianti)

 

Growing up in California, my experiences with camping had always been on the rugged side.  You drive as far as you possibly can from “civilization,” leave the car, and set up shop.  A week’s worth of food was brought from home and stored in a thermo cooler along with a giant ice block. Restrooms were outhouses, baths taken in lakes, and the only semblances of electricity were emitted from gas lanterns or transistor AM radios.

 

Typical campsite from my youth

Photo Credit: www.publicdomainpictures.net (Haanala)

I had never been camping in Italy before, but I already knew that Italians have a bit of a different take on things.  You are never THAT far from a village here, and campsites offer more services and amenities. Bathrooms are a must, and bars and restaurants are staples.  So, when glamping came into fashion a few years ago, the transition from camping to “glamping” was probably quite smooth.

 

Now, you may be wondering – what the heck is “glamping?”  Essentially, it’s luxury camping.  You get most of the amenities of a resort or hotel room, but you are still in the middle of nature.

 

Our research for “glampsites” yielded quite a few options: everything from tree houses in Tuscany, to yurts in olive groves in Abruzzo, or even staying in a bubble (!?) in Basilicata. In the end we chose to stay close to home at Orlando Glamping,  nestled high in the Chianti region’s forested hills.

 

Orlando Glamping

Photo Credit: www.orlandochianti.it

 

Air Lodge Accommodation

Photo Credit: www.orlandochianti.it

 

Upon arrival, we noted the license plates on the cars: half from Italy and half from the Netherlands, an interesting mix.  Our accommodation was known as an “Air Lodge,” a sort of two-story wooden structure with tent walls and roof.  The loft has a tent ceiling that could be unzipped, yielding a skylight.  Very quaint, but complete with bathroom, a tiny kitchen reminiscent of Ikea’s eco-house, and even an electric “BBQ.”

 

This resort had various types of accommodations at different price points: cabins, RV parking, tents, and something that looked like a rustic version of a Japanese capsule hotel which they call a “cube.”  Something for everyone.

Most guests were families with children aged 12 and under, and this was the target age for most activities.  The entertainment schedule featured balloon animals, kiddy water gym, and a disco. In addition, there was an off-road driving course with baby quads for kids under 10.

 

Where most people spent their days

 

In the end, most of our time was dedicated to the pool, switching from waterslide to jacuzzi to pool to lounge chairs… just what the doctor ordered!  A great way to soak up the Tuscan sun, this is how many of the “glampers” spent their days.    Social distancing was in effect by  the guests… somewhat.

 

Food will always be a central theme of my travels. If you know me, you know I tend to be skeptical (rightly or wrongly) about culinary quality in all-inclusive type resorts (Especially Italian locations frequented by high numbers of foreigners).  However, I was pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the meals (the typical Sienese “pici” pasta with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, fresh tomato sauce, and hot pepper and sauce was superb) and their presentation (truly works of art).

And when the food is right, you can’t go wrong, so all in all, I was quite pleased with my first Italian glamping experience.  Great fun and great food for the family!!

 

Pici All'Aglione

 

 

Breakfast Spread

 

On June 18th, 2020 by Karen Embrey

Sugar & Spice......

Posted In:
Florence | Food | Gelato | Italy | Life in Tuscany | Reflections

Bicycle outside My Sugar Gelato Florence

Gelato from My Sugar in Florence…..and everything nice can be found in a scrumptious spoonful of GELATO!  While out one Spring day doing my very FAVORITE pastime in Florence (wandering the streets with no particular place to go!), I came upon an elusive gelato shop that I’d read lots of great
things about but could never find.  It’s in the lesser-visited area of San Lorenzo in the Centro Storico (historical center) of Florence –  “less visited” only because (unfortunately) many tourists don’t venture BEYOND the imaginary “tourist’s triangle” that includes the Duomo, the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio.

The absolute most incredible part of visiting Florence is just WANDERING!!  Meander about this beautiful city and turn down every little street and alley you can find – the city is so small that you can’t get lost!  Don’t get distracted by the window displays of the leather shops.  Look UP at the buildings to truly experience your surroundings as you walk these hallowed halls once traversed by many of the Renaissance greats – Michelangelo, daVinci, the Medici and so many more.

When you decide to toss the map, you can discover so many hidden features of this truly magical city…. like the undiscovered gelaterie with award-winning delights in a cup (or a cone, whatever your pleasure).  My Sugar Gelato & Yogurt is located on via de’ Ginori 49r.  I shoved two flavors into my piccolo coppa (small cup) and had Pineapple & Ginger AND Coconut for the small investment of only €2!  The flavors were amazing – unique, fresh, and made with REAL ingredients.  I could even taste the flakes of coconut!  Another of their unique flavors is melacotta (ricotta, apple, cinnamon and honey).  The flavors change on a daily basis so feel free to make a daily visit-- your taste buds will love you for it!

It was only after I’d stepped back outside of the shop that I read the sign that said:  “WINNER Gelato Festival Firenze 2016 Reviewed by NY Times.”  Well, I guess my taste buds have been validated by the real gelato experts!  Head over to My Sugar for some absolutely decadent artisanal homemade gelato made fresh daily onsite!

My Sugar Gelato Artigianale
Via de' Ginori, 49/red
50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Tel: +39 393 069 6042
https://my-sugar.business.site/

 

Where have you found YOUR favorite gelato in Italy?!? 

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