Monday, October 27, 2008
Life in Montisi
Dateline: Montisi, Tuscany, Italy, 10/4/08 – 10/11/08
During our week in Montisi, we knitters became part of the community of this small town. A lot of people in town knew about the "knitting ladies" and would greet us as we walked around town. One day we staged a KIP (knitting in public) photo op on the piazza, or town square, in front of a mural that featured a woman knitting. And throughout our visit, we tried to adjust our schedule to the town's rhythms.
There are a few small stores in town: two tiny grocery stores, one of which also sells postcards and sewing notions; a gift shop; a bakery. The stores are typically open in the morning, closed for the afternoon, then open again for the late afternoon/early evening, but they didn't always keep to their posted hours. One morning a few of us walked to the grocery/postcard store and found the owner struggling to find her key. As one of us held her coffee for her, she looked but could not find it, and we finally walked back to the villa. I'm sure she didn't like having to turn away so many customers.
We got to know some of the dogs and cats of Montisi. Fritzi (the black and white cat) and her daughter Farfalle ("Butterfly", the white cat) live outside the villa and show up at least twice a day for food. I saw this boxer only once, but thought he made a nice picture in the window of his owners' home. A friendly black dog, Fragolette ("Little Strawberry"), wandered around town, greeting everyone and sometimes following people as they walked.
Montisi is divided into several contradas, or neighborhoods. On our first full day in town, our contrada had a fundraising lunch to support their jousting team (!) and our group attended. The main street was blocked to traffic (not that there was ordinarily a lot of traffic), and two long tables were set up in the street. Contrada residents cooked and served a lunch of several courses, including an excellent lasagna, tripe (which was actually good, but somehow I couldn't eat much of it), and unexpectedly, some of the best French fries I've ever had. Wine was included, of course, and the traditional dessert was vin santo, a sweet wine into which biscotti are dipped. It was great meeting and trying to communicate with some of the local people, and also some foreign visitors.
I'm used to having constant internet access, and maybe it was good for me to break that habit for a while, but I never gave up the quest for access while in Italy. I had no less than two computers with me, a laptop and my iPhone. Montisi has a bar/cafe, Il Rondo, which has a computer that visitors are welcome to use, but I was never able to get a wireless signal inside the bar. I discovered, however, that I could get a signal right outside the bar in the piazza. That became my personal wireless hotspot, and I went there at least twice a day to get news of the outside world: download email and New York Times news, call home, and get stock market quotes (which I might have been happier without; I was asked not to use the word "crash" to describe the market because I was upsetting other knitters, but I still believe this was the right word. Not a good time for us to be retiring and living off our investments.) I had an internet phone package that allowed me to call home very cheaply, but required wireless access. Later I discovered that the wireless signal was also available near the snack bar, so I would go there in the morning, order coffee (which was a good, strong espresso), then sit and use my iPhone.
I never found out whose wireless network I was using, since both the cafe and the snack bar denied it belonged to them (which may have been due to communication problems on my part). But it was reliable and free, which is more than I can say for the access in our hotels in Florence, Venice and Rome. All of these hotels charged what I considered outrageous rates for internet access, such as 8 Euros per hour. I paid for time but tried to keep my online time to a minimum.