The ever so engaging Giovanni appeared at our door at 1:45. He is a passionate food, wine, culture tour expert – actually an expert in all things Italian. He knows Chianti topography as if he were the creator and owns it very proudly. Twist, turn, lurch and lively conversation carried us to the Casaloste winery (www.casaloste.it) where Tetiana graciously greeted us and guided us through the tasting. We sampled delectable, spicy EVOO (extra virgin olive oil, for you non-foodies) and purchased some liquid gold to squirrel away in our luggage. We were whisked away by Giovanni to explore Chianti back country, except we didn’t have the requisite jeep or donkey. We were in a Fiat van with a man who spoke passionately with his hands (both while ‘driving’). As I stared intently at his rearview mirror into his Florentine blue eyes – it was for the sole purpose of a focal point for increasing nausea. That much shaking should be reserved for a blender in a bar.
Gratefully he choose Radda as a brief stopping point to kill some time before the next winery. Although Radda is so beautiful, I managed to leap out of the van only when I saw a fontana – WATER! Please!
Note to readers: take water while touring wineries with a passionate, teaching sommelier. Brief moment in Radda civilization and back to Chianti country roads. The word road is consistently misused and misrepresented in Italy. In Giovanni’s van, there was room for passage of 1 vehicle many times – biggest vehicle gets dibs. When I felt I could look – please be assured the vistas are to die for – or at least for Gucci and My Beloved to photgraph dozens of times. Upon arriving at the second winery – the outside air was a better option for my spinning head – so the others went off with a rather frazzled looking guide. I was immersed in Italian cultural trivia, courtesy of Giovanni. Gucci left the winery tour soon after entering – too close and dark – and we listened intently to Giovanni’s travelogue of Italy. His knowledge is so deep and yet honestly comparitive to his extensive travels – his fountain of knowledge, his warm demeanor and simple desire to share was the best Tuscan tour we could have had today.
I have to admit my patience was wearing thin – shake, rattle and roll in my world is so different from Chianti. I was eager to press on to dinner as it was a much anticipated event. Both Barbara and Tetiana – respected and knowledgeable Tuscan foodies were excited for us.
I have to pause to mention that during the brief stop in Radda, Giovanni went to a favourite wine shop and purchased a spumanti rose as a celebratory wine for Mr. K2. Incredibly thoughtful. He was deeply concerned with how to have it appropriately chilled for dinner. It was so very sweet.
Between the second winery tour and the highly touted Le Scuderia (which is in a beautiful setting by an ancient monastery), we bumped along more donkey cart roads to the most breath-taking Montfioralle village which had the Church of St. Stephan adorning its very heart. We marvelled in the ancient workmanship set in the tranquil beauty of Chianti. The bells rang and it was so reverant and peaceful in that moment. Finally time for dinner – expectations registering nine on the Food Richter Scale.
Setting – so pretty. We are first in and seated. 7:30 P.M. is the senior citizen early seating equivalent to the Canadian Early Bird Special at 4:30. Great. People begin to pour in. We received first course antipasto – every piece carefully inventoried and serial numbered by Le Scuderia. 1 piece each – no more. No less. Empty plates whisked away – second course – 9 large ravioli. Delectable and microchipped. We’re careful, as a Tuscan meal carries a meat course. We are now experienced diners in the land of ‘simple’ food. This we know. We sat – we talk – cheese plate appears. We’re a little confused. Not sure – we press on – 12 pieces of cheese, 4 guests – that’s right 3 pieces of cheese each. Inventory control is not an issue at Le Scuderia. Giovanni’s wine is presented. My Beloved presented a heartfelt toast in honour of Mr. K2.
“Make new friends, but keep the old,
One is silver and the other gold.
I wish you health, I wish you wealth, I wish you gold in store,
I wish you Heaven after death, what could I wish you more?
Mr.K2, here’s to golden friendship and golden days to come and we may we all look forward the words of Christ ‘Well Done!’ ”
Hindsight being what it is, I am ever so glad he chose that moment to do it. We sat, we talked. Mr. K2 engaged us in interesting tidbits around his professional life and how he had prepared for his career. Giovanni is expected at 10 P.M. It’s 9:40 P.M. Great agitation arises at the table about the conspicuously absent, yet expected,next course.
My Beloved goes to the kitchen to gain understanding. He’s clearly frustrated and calls me to the kitchen. What should be happening? No one seems to be clear, but one thing is stressfully clear – time is passing and a Tuscan birthday cake is not appearing. Finally an overtasked person asked me if we needed more food. I was insulted, angry, frustrated at all players at that moment in time and chose not to respond as I was absolutely sure the decibel level would exceed even Tuscan standards – and create competition for the monastery bells at 10 P.M.
The ‘cake’ (I use this word loosely) arrived unceremoniously on a plate sans candles. I am deeply suspicious that they forgot about our table and were in serious cover up mode by throwing the first dart. The other very unnerving part of this unfitting end was managing and calibrating the level 9 expectations of the table. Indeed this day cost precious euros. The whole day, not just the dinner, but the last 20 minutes of an 8 hour day created the biggest mudslide over the otherwise joyous opportunity of celebration. Perspective – 20 minutes of a day. 20 minutes of a week. 20 minutes of a life. I was gobsmacked at how quickly we retreat to the place of demanding, egocentric children. Did this ruin the day? Absolutely not! Did the end the way we would have preferred? Absolutely not! I was reflective and quiet during my return lurching to Dudda (pronounced Doodah). Giovanni tried his best to keep his end of the cheerful bargain. He’s going on holiday for 25 days so he is in very high spirits. My spirits on the other hand are quite low and needs some respite. The thought of one more car ride in Italy is starting to make me feel anxious. Trapped even. I am hoping the morning reveals a rested look at the situation both past and future.
It is my deepest hope that this was and ever will be a fond memory of Mr. K2’s 60th birthday in Tuscany by sheer fact we were permitted to celebrate it at all and that we accomplished it in this beautiful country.