The more I explore my roots in Italy the more I feel a connection to my stateside cousins. My grandfather, Francesco Guerrera, and his brother, Nicola, came to the Americas together. I haven’t figured out if brother Giovanni came with them or before them. Anyway – the three brothers first stopped in South America and then settled in New Jersey! Eventually Giovanni headed to upstate New York. Thats why Nicola’s children and grandchildren are the cousins I remember best of all. They lived in North Jersey and would venture to the “farm” in Flagtown to hang out with the country folk.
My cousin Hank Sinatra – Nicola’s grandson – now lives in Texas but also enjoys his Italian heritage. (No, you ask him if he is related to that other Sinatra.) He is the only other cousin who has ventured alone to Pontelandolfo to meet our Italian family. Besides being a handsome devil, he is a talented spinner of tales. We were both in Italy this fall and he was sharing tales of his adventures with me. I suggested he share them with you!
Hank Sinatra My Adventuresome Cousin Shares His Latest Adventure in the Tuscana Town of Pienza:
Pienza by Hank Sinatra
Suddenly it was September First!!!! Ellen and I quickly packed and were ready to leave on the 2nd. We were having big-trip-itis. What if we oversleep? What if the flight is canceled? What if? What if? None of that happened. On the 3rd, after a trying stop-over at London’s Heathrow, we landed at Fiumicino Airport. It was 2:30 PM in Rome. We raced to rent a car and get on the road – its a long drive to Pienza and I didn’t relish the thought of driving the narrow twisted roads of Tuscany in the dark.
Ellen and I looked at each other and grinned – we were back in that wonderful little hill town, Pienza. For our last four trips there, we have stayed in the same little apartment at the Giardino Segreto (Secret Garden).
Ellen and Rossella
We were met by the lovely Rossella, who manages the property. (www.ilgiardinosegretopienza.it) The delightful Rossella speaks hardly any English, which makes it hard, since I speak hardly any Italian. Some how we get by!
Ellen and I tend to visit a lot of small towns around Pienza. Parking is usually difficult in hill towns, and Pienza is no exception. This was the Pienza Cheese Festival week, so parking was especially scarce.
One place we always try to visit in Tuscany is the Abbiazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. It is a Benedictine monastery. The Mass we attended was done as a Gregorian Chant. Beautiful. The monastery is located half-way between Asciano and Buonconvento. They make all sorts of homeopathic products and have a great restaurant.
After returning to Pienza, and finding a place to park, we headed to the Pieve di Corsignano, a church that is no longer in service but is where Pope Pius the 2nd was baptized. He had a love for Pienza, and did much of the work, which has made this little city a Unesco World Heritage Center. Since this was their Cheese Festival week, we saw something we had only seen in a movie: Flag tossing. It was beautiful.
Hank, I was so excited to hear about the Cheese Festival that I searched for a video. This one shows the medieval procession – enjoy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoA1kGXqD-Q
If you go to Pienza, there are a few local places that we love. One is a bar on the West-side of Pienza called Bar Il Casello. Go close to sundown, you will get to see one of the most picturesque sunsets in the world. The sun sets over the Val D’Orcia. It is truly a spectacular sight. Then, of course, for a relaxing drink before and after your evening meal, try the little café across from the park, Il Café. It is the place to be to people watch.
Hungry? I recommend la Buca Della Fate. They have a wonderful menu that includes such treats as Bistecca alla Fiorentina, which is a very large and tasty steak that is purchased by the kilogram, and Pici Cinghiale , which is a wild boar tomato sauce over Pici pasta. Pici is a traditional pasta of Tuscany that is made without eggs – half regular flour and half semolina. There is a saying that “In Italy, life happens outside.” Here is what lunch-time looked like, for us, in Pienza.
This was standard fare. Bread, cheese (Pecorino, since it is, after all, Pienza) tomatoes, processed meat, either a type of salami or, in this case, Porchetta, a smoked pork ham, and, of course, some wine. Then, generally before the evening meal, you take a walk: passaggiata. This trip, we made a special point of following Patrick Kiker’s advice, which has always served us well. He blogs under “For the Love of Italy.” (www.fortheloveofitaly.blogspot.com)
Patrick’s blog suggested that if we went anywhere near Montalcino, that we stop in and see Laura at Il Pallazone just West of Montalcino. Being fans of Brunello wine, and Montalcino being the epicenter of Brunellos, we were going there anyway. Laura gave a tour and we found out a lot about Brunello Wines, grapes, and Olive Oil. She gave us a sample of her oil and we were blown away. I never knew how olive oil was supposed to taste. She told us that in the States, a lot of olive oil was actually canola oil which had a little bit of essence of olive added that allowed it to be sold as olive oil. You can join her club which means you get 3 bottles of her own olive oil by Christmas every year. (www.ilpalazzone.com)
Well, that kind of ended our first week in Italy, 2014. Ellen and I are headed towards Umbria, talk to you about that later.
Hank, grazie mille!