weekend in Tuscany (or, “Under the Tuscan Sun, 2015 edition”)

Hello, everyone – I have now been here in Greve for one week, and on the practical side of things, it’s been a challenge. Everybody goes “ooh, ahh” when your friend or colleague goes off to study and sing opera in Italy, but few people know about the heat, the zanzara (mosquitoes), and getting used to doing without the normal creature comforts that we take for granted in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong…this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am thrilled to have the means to take advantage of such a high level of study and travel, but still…

More or lees, I am managing fine, sleeping and eating (all too) well, and making a lot of progress vocally, which is why I am here. We had 5 intense days of study and singing, then had most of the weekend off.

As mentioned previously, my dear friend Simone Tetz, whom I knew and worked with in Copenhagen in the late 1990s when we both were employed at the WHO (World Health Organization), was posted to Venice in 2006 and soon after met a handsome Venetian, Alessandro (every 3rd or 4th guy I meet in Italy is named either Alessandro or Daniele) and they married in 2007. 

When I knew I would participate in the Tuscany MOS program, I e-mailed Simone about a side trip to Venice, about which she was very enthusiastic.  She and her mother-in-law Manuela planned a weekend here in Tuscany and then I was going to accompany them back to Venice this afternoon (16th). Considering my mobility issues resulting in a stretched tendon in my left calf/ankle due to NOT wearing my orthotics for several years…bad Janice…my left ankle is swollen all the time, but things are manageable if I do my stretching exercises, ice regularly, and ALWAYS were the stupid orthotics (most people don’t even notice).

However, it’s a fairly long walk from the flat where I am staying here in Greve to the school where we have classes, to the Coop market, to the lunch venue, and back home. So…I told Simone that it would be unwise for me to try to accompany her and Manuela back to Venice this afternoon and then get myself back to Greve on Tuesday (missing 2 days of classes, not to mention busses and trains here and there).

Nevertheless, the 3 of us have had a splendid 2 days together, starting Friday afternoon when our classes ended at noon and I met them in the town square in Greve for lunch at a lovely terrazzo restaurant. (I will definitely be going back there!)

Later that night, we met in a tiny town about 10 km from Greve called Panzano, which has a famous restaurant, Antica Macelleria Cicchine, that specializes in Tuscan beef (we were served, family style at a long table seating about 20 people, 5 cuts of beef, from carpaccio to tartar, to porterhouse to rib eye, plus side dishes). This was really fun…a huge table with American tourists, Italian tourists, and even some Germans (they are EVERYWHERE, of course).

On Saturday, yesterday, Simone had arranged a guide through the Chianti region. I was picked up by Miriam, the guide, and she drove the 3 of us drove through Chianti, where every view is like a postcard, of course. After about 2 hours of driving, we stopped for a private wine tasting at a winery called Tenute Niccolai, near San Gimignano. With light snacks (crostini w/tomatoes and herbs, bread, a bit of cheese) we were served 3 Tuscan wines:

  • a white, Vernaccia di San Gimignano
  • Chianti Colli Senesi (predominantly Canaiolo and Merlot grapes)
  • Vino Rosso Sottobosco (Sangiovese, Carbernet sauvignon, Syrah grapes) – this was my favorite, very strong with wonderful after taste

Nos. 1 and 3 were excellent and I bought 1 bottle of each for a total of EU 20…a bargain.

Then Miriam drove us to San Gimignano for some tourism and shopping. We were there for about 4 hours, including lunch in a very nice “off the beaten path” restaurant. Miriam knew of a leather shop in town with great prices, and I picked up some bargains (red leather tote bag which will hold all of my music and singing stuff; a glasses case; a couple of small souvenirs for friends).

San Gimignano is called the “Medieval Manhattan” due to its very high towers. In medieval times, there were over 100 towers, as protection from the enemy (now the “enemy” seems to be the hordes of Asian, German, and American tourists)…now there are only 15 towers. Please “google” San Gimignano to get a look at this incredible town. Eventually, I will figure out how to post photos…still working on that!

After we left San. G., we drove back to Panzano where Simone and Manuela were staying (Albergo Valle, a converted stone farmhouse which is now a hotel) and had dinner there.  Need I say that ALL the food has been splendid (especially memorable was the lemon risotto at the Terrazzo restaurant in Greve on Friday…risotto with the thinnest slivers of lemon rind imaginable and the risotto flavored with lemon and basil…yum!)

Today, Sunday (16th) is also a day off and Jack has organized a trip to San Gimignano. Uh, well, I was just there, so I declined, since I needed a day off for rest and study. Originally, he wanted to arrange a bus to Firenze (Florence), but didn’t order Uffizi Museum tickets early enough, so everyone has gone to San. G. today…we will go to Firenze on Saturday, 22nd.

All in all, this has so far been a very productive and fun experience. Tomorrow, it’s nose to the grindstone again, with 5 full days of study.  I will be working on not only concert music (for the 9/20 concert that Janet and Max and I are presenting), but another big honker aria, “O ma lyre immortelle” – in French (oh yes, my favorite language to sing in…NOT), which I hope to perform either on a master class or in an upcoming concert. 

We have 3 concerts coming up soon…Friday, 21st; Thurs. 27th; Sat., 29th.

NOTE TO MY STUDENTS – Sing every day!

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