chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Tag Archives: Tuscany

Tuscan memory…

Cinta SineseThe Cinta Sinese pigs at Spannocchia were charcoal gray, black really, with a white belt. They were separated by age and sex and shared a single destiny: the table. Prosciutto on the hoof, they wandered in the woods eating acorns and showed up twice daily for an unappealing-looking mash of watered grain.

Most of the pigs emerged eagerly as soon as the truck pulled up. The young men pounded on empty buckets to draw the dawdlers from the forest. But one group — the young girls, they said — was too busy with acorns and wouldn’t respond to any amount of pounding or calling, so the fresh-faced, muck-booted blond intern with the red cheeks went to fetch them. The oaks were about 50 yards away across a stretch of open meadow. He disappeared into the trees and moments later reappeared, striding back across the narrow hoof-worn path with a line of small pigs trotting eagerly behind him, snout to tail.

They kept their comical cuteness until they got to the pen, when they suddenly erupted into pigs — squealing and snorting, shoving and nipping at whatever bit of pig meat separated them from the trough. Then: slopping noisily, inhaling their meal, snouts wet nearly to the eyes, they gave me a new appreciation for the phrase eats like a pig.
pig photo

village lane…

gelatoThe village perched atop a hill, at the end of a long, narrow cypress-lined drive that twisted upward. They parked the Vespa outside the gate and turned to look back at all of Tuscany, fields in blocks of green and sienna, hilltops fortressed with villas.

Walking hand in hand through the high arch, they entered the cobblestoned lane lined with shops. Even in this tiny village, the shop windows and open doors were lush with their rows of jars and bottles, prosciutto, cheese, ceramics, jewelry and multi-hued mounds of gelato. Except at noon, when the high sun beat directly down, the small street was in shade, cool on the hottest days. The shutters on the upper floors were thrown open to catch the angled light, here and there a shirt, blinding white, hung to dry on the rail of a slender balcony. The cobblestones were scrubbed and glossy with centuries of wear.

An ancient woman dressed in black, her cane in one hand, her small string bag of groceries in the other, stopped at a closed door, shifted her parcel, opened the door and disappeared inside, the door shutting silently behind her, the air erasing the memory of where she had stood just a moment ago.

The sun pooled at the end of the street, where the buildings opened out into the piazza and they strolled toward the promise of its warmth.


scarf shopThe day was colder than we had anticipated, a sharp bite to the breeze that pushed down the cobbled alleyways. We fortified ourselves with bright shots of espresso and gazed at the lavish displays of cheeses, prosciutto and salami, postcards and purses, multi-hued pasta, majolica tiles and the 12th-century frescoes covering the walls and vaulted ceiling of a small church.

We were cold. The shop promised warmth. It was tiny — the size of a bathroom — its walls a dense tapestry of color. Scarves and shawls were stacked on shelves, draped over rods, dangling from the ceiling. They fluttered and billowed where they were clipped to the open doors, a vivid enticement. Paisleys and plaids, prints and brocades, solids and stripes, luxurious fringes.

We touched the fabrics, unfurled shawls, held them up in front of the tiny mirror. The shopkeeper, a man perhaps in his 40s, pulled more scarves from the shelves. This one, he would say, draping a gaudy brocade around his own shoulders. No, no, I would say, searching for a way to explain simple, no pattern, in my tourist Italian. Reaching behind him, he found another, an impossible raspberry color, and looped it around his neck. I shook my head, smiled.

One after the next, he wrapped himself in shawls, turning to show the back, running his fingers through the fringe. He seemed to want nothing more than this, happy to have a small audience. When at last I had found and paid for my green striped scarf and he had settled it around my neck and we turned at the doorway to say grazie, he was grinning broadly, still mantled in layers of lush color.
scarf shop photo


The descending forest trail had little understory. Gnarled oaks spread overhead, filtering the sun. The ground was dusty, marbley gravel underfoot, a thick layer of oak leaves banked at the edges of the path. Where the trees parted to reveal a particularly agreeable vista, log seats invited contemplation.

And in between the trees, here and there, just random enough to offer a very slight jolt of fear before the pleasure of surprise, were life-size animals created from twigs: boar, deer, roosters, even a porcupine. The lashed twigs captured the essence of the creatures, the familiar stance. They seemed to be foraging among the acorns, about to move, about to disappear as the light filtered through their twiggy bodies.