Saturday, December 15, 2007

Certaldo Alto (8 of 10)

Another exquisite morning. There were swirls of ‘nebbia’ over parts of the countryside as we drove the 13 kilometers to Certaldo Alto. The beautiful cat from my 2005 trip was still there. It looked like a tabby point Siamese cross with particularly blue eyes. There was also a black cat with her two tabby kittens.


We drove up a different way this time and ended up at the other end of the main street from where we usually parked. We went into S.S. Jacopo e Filippo, one of my favorite churches in Italy, and looked at Boccaccio’s gravestone embedded in the floor, the fourteenth century font and the two della Robbia altarpieces. I remember coming here years ago when my two children were small and exploring this precious little church with them.

In the late afternoon, after siesta back at the hotel, we walked up to the fortress, admiring the cyclamens on doorsteps and all of the potted herbs and the many colored geraniums. We reached the large church of Sant’ Agostino and enjoyed the peace of the courtyard through the church. I don’t think the tour groups, or the day visitors who pass so briefly through this peaceful town, ever get to see Sant’ Agostino, which is a pity, as it is really beautiful. You can also walk inside the inner courtyard of the adjoining cloister. Look up to the first floor for the black owl made of stone. It looks so real and has been there since I started coming to San Gimignano more than twenty years ago.

We looked in the small gift shop and spoke to the custodian. We wanted to know if there were still rooms to be had in the convent. But he said that they had not rented out rooms since 1995. Certain guidebooks need to update their information.

Right next to the church, is the gallery of what I consider San Gimignano’s premier photographer, Claudio Calvani, at Piazza S. Agostino, 12. He has won more than 250 photographic awards. His pictures are represented in calendars that have been sold all over the world and have been printed in National Geographic magazine. Although I am still fond of the ‘pippistrella’ (bat) pictures, I bought one of his most recent compositions; a well mounted and beautifully framed view of a casa in Chianti.

That evening we had a delicious dinner at La Grilia, made by adorable Ada. We would have liked to take Ada home to Australia to cook for us. I wonder if she would have come. She has been cooking for us each night (but not on Thursdays when they are closed) that we have spent in San Gimignano for the past six years, over four visits. It really added an extra dimension to a vacation when we enjoyed a restaurant as much as Ada’s La Grilia and Luca’s Trattoria da Nino in San Provolo in Venice.

We looked forward each day to our time spent in the bistro’s dining room – Ada calling out to us as she cooked our dinner to inquire about our day. We spent time each evening enjoying a delicious meal and sharing our contorni, going over our day and making plans for the next day, while people watching through the tall, open glass doors.

At night, in our large double room, with the big picture window and the double French doors leading out onto the terrace with the view of five, no, six towers, we didn’t get much reading done. We were too busy looking from one view to another. We watched the birds wheel around the towers looking for somewhere to roost for the night. We could see car lights approaching the town, coming in for dinner perhaps.

At dusk, the tower lights began to turn on and the towers became even more enchanting. Only thirteen of more than seventy now remain. As the town is so spectacular, close up and from a distant hillside with these towers, what must it have looked like in its heyday, with all the towers intact?

People talk about the hordes of tourists and the tour buses, but whenever I have been here, the buses were few and the tourists were never as pressing as they have been in some of the big cities. The tour groups come, pause briefly for a photo and a gelato by the well, and listening to their leader’s commentary, they move on. I felt so lucky to have had eight nights here and wished we could stay longer.

No matter how long I stay in San Gimignano, it is never long enough. Most people seem to catch a fleeting glimpse. We visited the market, shopped at the Coop and the alimentary, we became known at our bar, Caffeteria di Olmo, and Ada greeted us enthusiastically at our restaurant, cooking us special dishes presented with loving care.
The town seemed so much easier to traverse than any of the other hill towns we have ever stayed in. It is not that high up actually, and most of the inclines are not all that steep. It was the easiest walking of any of the hill towns we know.

Later that afternoon, we toured the edges of the town on foot, peering into gardens, admiring lace curtains, saying “Buona sera” to locals on their doorsteps. Staying for a longer time in one place lets you get to know a town better and we began to recognize locals and to find shortcuts across the town.

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