A Taste of Italian Honey

Do you ever have one of those fits where you have to have something sweet, and there’s nothing in the house?  I try to keep temptation at bay by not buying cookies, candy, ice cream or other treats.  But every once in a while I get desperate, and that means a frantic search through the kitchen for something to satisfy the urge.

A couple of months ago I was rummaging in the cabinet and found a jar of honey which Imonte_oliveto_maggiore had forgotten about.  The label read, “Abbazia Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Monaci Benedettini Olivetani, Miele, Fioritura Prevalente.”  All of a sudden it came back to me.  I bought this jar of honey during a trip to Italy in the summer of 2001.  It had never been opened.  So I opened it and spread some on a piece of bread.  It had darkened a bit, but was not crystallized at all.  I took a bite.

I tasted flowers, and I saw the landscape–rugged, dry, ridges topped with cypress trees.  We were in the “badlands” south of Siena, and I remember feeling we were at a high elevation, even though it wasn’t that high above sea level.  The abbey was completed in the early 16th century, and it is still a monastery to this day.  There were beautiful, richly-colored frescoes which looked as if they had recently been restored.  Despite a few busloads of tourists, the cloisters were peaceful and calm.

A good-natured monk in a white habit was on duty in the gift shop.  They sold a a few things which they produced, like the honey, and I think I remember a few tacky religious souvenirs.    I bought the honey and carried it safely home in my carry-on bag, in those innocent days before 9/11.  When I tasted it 14 years later, I saw wildflowers blowing on those dry ridges and felt the peace of the place again.

Now if I can just stop eating the honey!  Nearly half the jar is gone.  And when it’s gone, the memory may go, too.

Cowboys in Tuscany

The Culprits
The Culprits

All Americans are not cowboys, but sometimes we think we are.  This story comes from the summer when a group of us rented a villa outside Panzano, Italy for a week.   The villa was on a working farm.

The owners lived in the other wing of the house and grew grapes and olives.  They had two little girls and an extremely friendly dog who loved to visit at mealtimes.  They also kept a couple of horses, Oskar and Luna, for riding. Our group enjoyed looking at the rolling hills  and watching the horses graze while we sat on the terrace sipping wine.

One day half the group went to San Gimignano.  The rest of us decided to have a lazy day at the villa’s pool.  Sally had broken a bone in her foot six weeks before we left for Italy.  She had walked through Rome, Florence and Siena in an orthotic boot, so she thought a day at the pool would be a nice break.

Sally, Scott, Nancy and I were sitting on the terrace reading and relaxing when  we heard a clopping sound.  Oskar and Luna were standing in the yard looking at us, and the fence was down.  Sally jumped up and caught both horses by their halters, while I tried to find some rope so we could tie them up.  There was no rope to be found, so Scott closed the farm’s electric gate to keep them from straying onto the road.  The owners were away in Florence for the day, so Nancy called them on their mobile phone and reported the problem.

Oskar and Luna were patient with us, but they didn’t stand still, and they had big, heavy hooves.  One of them shifted his weight and stepped on Sally’s broken foot!  She yelled and let him go.  The horses drifted to the front yard, and Sally put an ice pack on her foot.

Then a real Italian cowboy arrived, on a motorbike.  The owners had called him to come fix the fence and get the horses in.  He had a ponytail and a tan, and wore cargo shorts, sunglasses, and hiking boots.  He was quite handsome.  He said something like, “Los cavallos escapa,” and we said, “Si, si.”

The horses had broken their water pipe and were thirsty.  So our cowboy fixed the pipe, repaired the fence, put the horses back in their field, and buzzed off on his motorbike.

Fortunately Sally’s foot was only bruised, not broken again.  She elevated it and daydreamed about the cowboy.

Cowboys in Tuscany

Casa al MonteFriends at the Villa 2001

During the summer of 2001, eight of us friends rented a villa outside Panzano, Italy on a working farm.  The owners lived in the other wing of the house and grew grapes and olives.  They also kept a couple of  horses, Oskar and Luna, for riding. Our group enjoyed looking at the rolling hills,  watching the horses graze while we sat on the flagstone terrace as the sun set,  and talking until late at night under the stars.  The villa was our home base for a week while we explored Siena, Florence (Firenze), Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Panzano itself, which had charming restaurants and a renowned shoe-maker.  We also cooked a lot of our meals and went through a ridiculous amount of the local wine.

One day half the group went to San Gimignano to see the sights.  The rest of us decided to have a lazy day at the villa’s pool.  Sally had broken a bone in her foot six weeks before we left for Italy.  She had touristed through Rome, Florence and Siena in an orthotic boot, so she thought a day at the pool would be a nice break.

Friends at the Villa, 2001

Sally, Scott, Nancy and I were sitting on the terrace reading and relaxing when  we heard a clopping sound.  Oskar and Luna were standing in the yard looking at us, and the fence was down.  Sally jumped up and caught both horses by their halters, while I tried
to find some rope so we could tie them to a tree or something.  There was no rope in any of the outbuildings, so Scott closed the farm’s electric gate to keep them from straying onto the road.  The owners were away in Florence for the day.  Nancy called them on  their mobile phone and reported the problem.

Oskar and  Luna were patient with us, but they didn’t stand still, and they had big, heavy
hooves.  One of them shifted his weight  and stepped on Sally’s broken foot!  She
yelled and let him go.  The horses  drifted to the front yard, and Sally put an ice pack on her foot.

Then a real  Italian cowboy arrived, on a motorbike.  The owners had called him to come fix the fence and get the horses  in.  He wasn’t much like John Wayne.  He was small and handsome, with a ponytail and a tan, and  wore shorts, stylish sunglasses, and hiking boots.   He said something like, “Los cavallos escapa,” and we said, “Si, si.”

Turns out the horses  had broken their water pipe and were thirsty, so that was why they broke down the fence.  Our cowboy fixed the pipe, repaired the fence, put the horses back in  their field, and took off on his motorbike, smiling and waving.

I plan to write more about this trip.  It was an amazing time, overshadowed by illness in my family at home, but still a fun, peaceful interlude.  Then later that year came 9/11, and the world changed.