The short walk through the Tuscan countryside was delightful. We were familiar with the route by now, and delighted in the bird songs, the chattering of insects and the delightful aromas of the farms around us. The sun was dropping towards the hills to the west, which allowed the air to cool enough to make the walk comfortable.
When we arrived in the centre of the village, a small group of locals had already gathered, many actually involved in the planning and production of the event. Two long rows of tables were set up in a small side street which branched off at an angle from the main street directly in front of Ricci’s Alimentari.
It was still early evening, but by this time the sun had dropped down below the local hills, and the long shadows slowly disappeared. The Tuscan sunset cast a light rose tinted glow to the ancient stone buildings around us. Strings of lights had been strung out across the street, and as it grew darker, they brightened our dining area. As more locals arrived, the noise level increased, with small groups gathering to one side to share the latest news or village gossip. We noticed a young woman with a baby buggy drawing a lot of attention from some older women. Apparently she had just given birth to twins, and had brought them both to the party. We engaged the services of our “translator” to inform her that our son and daughter-in-law also had just had twins – our first grandchildren back home in Canada. This news was immediately passed around which made us instant family friends and we were welcomed into the group. A couple of local dogs were snooping around, too early for any treats they were hoping for.
I noticed a lot of activity just around the corner on the main street. Taking my camera, I walked out to investigate. The organizing group of chefs, waiters, mothers, etc. were all milling around in a separate building, laying out dozens of plates of food on long tables. I suspected most of the chefs were the “nonnas”, or grandmothers who had been recruited to contribute their best family recipes to help the cause.
What I was witnessing was obviously our antipasti, being built as I watched, with each person helping to add to the dish. Before long, we were asked to return to our chairs. We all sat as more bottles of wine and water appeared, lined up in the centre of each table. Our waiters were all young men, which we learned were the soccer team we were here to support. What a great idea, we thought. These guys get to work this evening as waiters, while others, obviously very skilled in culinary arts, made the foods.
And so it started. Following the antipasti, we were treated with deep fried zucchini flowers, pomodoro bruschetta, salami, prosciutto, then a kind of bread salad, (delicious), some large pasta (rigatoni?) in a tomato sauce, a large grilled pork steak, with potatoes, another salad. This was all followed by sweets, cake, apple squares, and of course all served with a red house wine, water and then Vin Santo. The amount was definitely more than enough, and we were all stuffed by the end of the evening.
For the next few hours, plate after plate of these delicious Tuscan specialties were served, wine was poured, and conversation flowed. Most of it was in Italian, but we did get involved with some of the English translations that were handled for our benefit. A few of the locals also spoke English, including Roberto Crocenzi, the owner of a beautiful B&B (Locanda de Montisi) in the centre of the village. (Roberto
At one point, the level of noise from our end of the table increased, as a local ‘lothario’ was trying his best entertain one of the ladies from our group, an unattached, middle aged widow. She was definitely not interested in ‘going dancing’ or any other activities he had in mind. Needless to say, this little encounter provided an ample source of discussion and laughter for us all when we returned to the farmhouse.
As the evening wore on, our Italian improved, as did their English, making us realize that all it takes to improve your language skills is a good meal, a little fun, frivolity, a lot of sign language, and a fair measure of wine.
The street became darker and the strings of lights illuminated our little corner of the village. The noise level increased, the conversations more animated, fuelled no doubt by the Tuscan wine and the camaraderie and friendliness of the village people.
As I sat there watching all this, or more likely scooting round with my camera hoping to catch the scene for later enjoyment, I was once again reminded that we were so lucky to be able to enjoy this experience, one normally reserved only for those who get off the beaten tourist track, and take advantage of chances like this to meet the locals and taste the “real world”.
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