Saturday, January 13, 2007

Travels with Cadfael: The Drive of the Native

We planned to spend one day around Siena with Pietro, the classically handsome Italian friend of Cadfael's. We met-up in a parking lot in the outskirts of the city, for Cad and me to switch to Pietro’s car for the tour with the native.

I sat in the back and watched those clay hills roll under the stunning Tuscan sky, with the pop Italian station and their melodic Italian chatter providing the soundtrack. We went to ancient Bagno Vignoli for lunch, then on to Pienza, where we lazily walked through the maze of old side streets. In our post-meal lethargy we were becoming cinematic-—conversing less, quietly resting more. We could be Jules et Jim et Catherine to the French tourists passing us; there was no way to outwardly know who we were, and our own crosscurrents were ricocheting off each other in various directions. (But that’s a subject for a different blog.)

We went hiking for a bit to see the Madonna of the Scouts (challenging in a silk duster and soft shoes), visited Abbazia di Monte Oliveto for the exquisite Sodoma frescoes on the life of Benedict, stopped by the ancient Rocca of Montalcino, then enjoyed a 6-course dinner at some local place. It was a full day. Pietro was driving us back to our own car when it began to pour, dangerously. It was a complete white out— oddly tropical for Italy. We had driven pretty far and had quite a way to go to get back, even though it was very late and we were filled with fatigue and alcohol. Pietro starts trying to tell jokes in English to stay focused and awake. They were awful—they didn’t make sense, even when he put them back into Italian. But he would not be deterred—he was now shouting at me to follow these bizarre funnies.

It then crossed my mind that we were in danger of a serious car accident. How strange is fate that draws people together, in space and time, for its own purpose. If I were going to die that night, it was going to be in the company of a gorgeous Italian and a good-looking monk. Well, okay. They would be fine companions to weather purgatory with (if, like in A Guy Named Joe, you get to hang out with those you go down with).

The white-out conditions were barely abating. Pietro was beyond tired, when he made a dramatic left turn into a car park of some office building. Suddenly it was quiet, and we were bathed in an eerie chartreuse neon light that illuminated the cement walls. It was a Batman-villain lair come to life--I was sure the ground was going to be on an angle when we got out. From the intense beauty of the day’s journey—the piercing Tuscan sun, the shocking red of the tomatoes at dinner, the mounds of pink impatients in the window boxes in Pienza—we were now in a deserted, cold, and foreboding place.

Cad, did you sign us up for this Antonioni movie? Didn’t you ask for script approval?

We huddled, we sang along with the radio, we walked to the other levels--it seemed like forever. Finally the rain let up, and we were back on the road to Siena, where Cad and I finally got back to our own beloved Micra. We had another 90 minutes drive to reach the farmhouse where we were staying, and we just beat the sunrise by the time our heads hit the pillow.

We decided to spend an immobilized day recovering before heading out to Elba.