The difference between living here and visiting here is the same as a comparison between Italian culture and the USA. Slowly it has begun to sink in that there is no need to do the traditional quick overview sweep of tourism. Yes, we are looking at some of the most common sites, straight from our history slides (plus some scaffolding here and there), but there is less urgency to take it all in. Its not that I will ever truly be able to understand the magnitude and importance/unimportance of these monuments, but that I have time really to form an opinion. I have time to find my favorite art stores, narrow medieval streets, concentric staircases, green grocers, bar (for panini and cappuccino), and sunning spots. I have the privilege of knowing I can go back to the vintage store in the medieval and Roman town of Arezzo to check on scarves and 70’s sunglasses. And under no circumstances do I have to believe that at any moment it will be my last, only through the camera lens, moment in time.
In the past few days we have expanded our view of Tuscany. On Thursday we went to the hill town of Cortona, basically just around the next mountain ridge. (check out the maps posted on an earlier blog) Taking advantage of the public transit, we as a KSU student group rode the bus there. Little did we know that Mister Bob Condia was about to start our training as mountain goats. In Cortona, 17% grade is not uncommon, I saw signs. From the middle of the slope, probably already well over 800ft above the valley, we got of the bus and started up the rest of the hill.
At the top we visited one double siding painting in San Francesco, a church begun in 1245. The whole interior was covered by fragile frescoes. We then walked laterally along a street and outside of the walls through one of the city gates to an incredible view over the Valdichiana.
From this point we could also see Santa Maria Nouva, a centrally planned church that the famous regional architect Vasari worked on.
Back down the hill on a steep cobblestone street, where I wondered how anyone over the age of 35 could live without climbing gear or a take along self-leveling chair, we returned to the Piazza Republica. I believe this is where the fountain was placed during the filming of “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Also, multiple loggias in the area seemed relatively familiar even without the presence of nuns, cafe tables, and an eccentric blond wearing a hat. Here we were let loose to explore and find something to eat. And suddenly the day became more complicated then I could have imagined. How does one struggle through Italian to order food, act correctly, and respond in a kind manner. I am still learning, but that day was more exhausting then most due to confusion and attempts at trying. Successfully I bought some fresh pears at a green grocer and Sara, Jim, and I all met a couple from the US that lived outside of the walls in the valley, fairly close to the lake. A software engineer and blog writer the couple seemed very happy and invited us to dinner sometime during the duration of our stay.
The untouched Renaissance nature of the city of Cortona was really interesting. The streets are simply carved out of the stone building masses. Due to the extreme topography changes, Cortona is full of stairs and arcades trying to make a livable platform for the theater of life to take place. My friends and I took a turn inward after visiting the etruscan muesum and discovered a pocket of examples, an idea sketching location.
Chilled thoroughly from the afternoon breeze, deep shade, and heat stealing stone, we made our way back to the bus drop off. Below you can see both the elevation change and Santa Maria del Calcinaio, a crumbling sandstone (all the buildings are made of sandstone that is crumbling away) centralized plan church (1465) where the Tomb of Pythagoras is located. Yes, the actual Tomb of Pythagoras. (bottom left of photo below)
The bus ride back was short but beautiful, like many things here in Tuscany. Castiglion felt alot like home after getting off the bus. We bought some bread, mozzarella, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil to spice up our Tuscan menu back at the Study Center at a local almentari along the Corso. Dinner was just as awesome as always and it was once again good to sit with good friends, eat pasta, and enjoy a slower way of life here in Italia.