if large intestines could drive
Sunday, May 15 2011
location: L'Agnolo Di Caroti Cinzia, Montepulciano, Italy
Today was to be our last day in Montepulciano, so again we had to pack our things and prepare for a multi-modal journey to Rome. Happily, despite the fact that it was unstaffed, we were allowed to leave our luggage at the hotel after we checked out.
The weather, which had been sunny and clear for all of our Italian vacation so far, had suddenly taken a turn for the cloudy. For now, though, it seemed pleasant. We had our morning beverages at the café across the street and I sat there for over an hour as Gretchen explored the neighborhood. Next door to our hotel was a tiny leather goods store called T Nobile, and the woman who runs it did so from a distance at a table at our café, drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, and jumping up to run to her store whenever she had what appeared to be an interested customer.
Gretchen had one last restaurant, Osteria Del Conte, on her Montepulciano checklist, and that was where she wanted us to eat lunch. Unfortunately, lunchtime there begins at 12:30pm, and it wasn't even 11am yet. So we ended up doing as we'd done yesterday: strolling slowly about the town, taking advantage of any opportunities to linger and look. We went down to the southwest end, taking a lower street than any we'd been on before, and looking down to see what it's like to live in Montepulciano where there's enough space for a backyard. People had gardens, walls, and fountains, and even a certain amount of tackiness (for example, a colorful collection of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs figurines). There were also a great many cats, at least six of whom (including a kitten) could be seen in one yard alone. Where one didn't see cats one would still encounter bowls full of food, much of which was going to support the local pigeon population.
Up in the courtyard of the fortress, we came upon a plump old lady walking what looked like an American Pit Bull Terrier. So Gretchen ran up and gave the dog some love, it reciprocated, and the woman was delighted. The Italian they exchanged was about how misunderstood this breed of dog is, and the sweetness this particular dog has shown to children, bambini, and even gatti.
We rounded the hill to Montepulciano's northwest slope, looking down across a plain we haven't seen much from the parts of the town we'd been frequenting. At the foot of the stone wall upon which we stood were a series of small garden plots growing things like squash. One clever gardener had set up a large plastic cistern to collect runoff from a backyard shed.
When we attempted to enter the Piazza Grande, voices shouted down from the top of the picturesque Comune building urging us out of the square. It seemed a film crew had come there to shoot a scene for a movie. So we sat down out of view of the cameras and watched the scene get filmed. A well-dressed large-faced man walked across the piazza and someone yelled "cut" (or whatever the equivalent word is in Italian).
By now it was nearly 12:30pm, so we walked to Osteria Del Conte and took a seat outside under an umbrella. It looked like it might rain, and we didn't wanted to be dry if that were to occur.
The rain eventually started, slow at first, but proceeding eventually to torrential downpour, complete with a little thunder and lightning. There was so much water in the air and splashing up from the ground that it was impossible to stay completely dry even with the umbrellas, but we remained outside anyway. A german couple (eating slices of prosciutto draped over melons) at a somewhat drier umbrella decided they'd had enough and retreated indoors.
We ordered two different kinds of pici, one of which was hand-rolled and looked like some sort of sea worm. It was so good we had to place a second order. (A mistake earlier in our meal had accidentally resulted in a plate of spaghetti with ragu sauce being set before me. I'd taken one bite and spit it out because it had contained some unfortunate animal who had been ground into tiny pieces.) Our waitress had an accent that seemed out of place in Italy; it turned out she was from Ireland. In the European Union, citizens can go where the jobs are. It turns out there aren't actually all that many in Italy, but the ones that are tend to be in the tourist industry, these days catering largely (it seems) to Germans and the few American benefitting from the continuation of George W. Bush's tax policy.
The rain eased a little but never let up, and when we were done with our meal, we thought it prudent to run back to our hotel to get our stuff. The hotel was on the opposite end of the town, but it was all downhill, and we didn't want to get too wet. The run took us about two minutes.
I found that I had enough surplus capacity in my backpack to absorb all the dry pici Gretchen had purchased, and this simplified our hike down to the bus station. Since our hotel was already low in the town, this hike wasn't far. There are a pair of elevators to help pedestrians get down, though we only used one of these.
We found a tour group of elderly Germans at the bus station waiting for the Piccolo (the little bus), though the station itself was closed and there was something posted about new summer scheduling for longer-range bus lines. So when the Piccolo finally showed up, Gretchen asked the driver what the status was of the bus to Chiusi (where we needed to catch our train to Rome). The driver was apologetic, saying Sunday routes for the bus had been canceled for the time being due to budget cuts. Not knowing what else to do, we decided to ride the Piccolo back into Montepulciano (this time the way Italians do it, that is, for free), and go to Il Riccio (that first hotel, which we knew to be staffed). There Gretchen talked the woman running the place into calling us a cab. (Gretchen has such a way with people that, by the end, the woman was giving her the customary dual-cheek kiss-goodbye.) Meanwhile, I was developing a pair of urgent conditions in my pants. On the one hand, my bladder was full and only getting fuller. On the other, my lower intestines had been shaken loose by that run down Montepulicano and they were whimpering that they needed to be given an opportunity, at some point, to explode. But I didn't want to further impose on the woman running Il Riccio, so I sucked it up and held it. The cab arrived (it was just some guy driving a car), we piled in, and off we went.
I will say this: if you have an urgent need to use a bathroom and are holding it until you arrive at your next destination, you could do worse than depending on an Italian cab driver to get you where you need to be. The guy drove like a madman (or, perhaps more accurately, the way my large intestine would have driven had it been equipped with a foot). We sailed down those narrow country roads past grape orchards and vegetable gardens, tailgating where possible, and passing slowpokes no matter how short the visibility. On the way we chatted about the sad state of the Italian economy, the beauty of Montepulciano (which our driver, a native, admitted to taking for granted), the Etruscans, and the relative merits of old masonry villages compared with modern cities equipped with skyscrapers. It took us less than twenty minutes to get to Chiusi, and it cost 38 euro.
In the station, I bought our tickets and Gretchen paid the cabby. I would have tried to find a bathroom there, but our train was about to leave, so we ran out and climbed aboard. This was just as well; one wants to spend as little time as possible in Chiusi.
So then our train was moving, Gretchen had a seat and our bags, and all I had to do was find a working bathroom. I couldn't find any near our car, so I kept going from one to the next. They all seemed to be occupied or else their doors were jammed. Eventually, though, I found a bathroom whose door was ajar. It wasn't pretty in there, but it definitely beat squatting over the narrow gap between two cars (my Plan B). "This will work," I said out loud as I latched the door behind me.
A couple minutes later I joined Gretchen with a look of Zen calm on my face. When I told her how long I'd been needing a bathroom, she was astounded.
Our train down to Rome took a different route than the one we'd come up on. This one seemed to make more local stops. Having a ticket only proved necessary as we approached Rome, because that is when tickets are checked. It seems one can ride trains in Italy between small towns for free.
Amusingly, there is only one activity that seems to be prohibited when one is seated on an Italian train: throwing empty wine bottles out the window. A sign forbidding bottle defenestration was the only signage I saw from where we sat (in a little room isolated from the rest of the train by plexiglass walls).
When we rolled into the terminal in Rome, I went to put my shoes on and found unexpected difficulties. Some muscles in my calfs were now paralyzed and I was forced to kick the shoes against the floor in order to get them in place. Then, when we were walking on the platform and on the streets of Rome to the hostel Gretchen had set up for us, I found my gait had been altered. My feet couldn't make a soft landing on the ground but instead slapped noisily against it. I wasn't sure what precisely the problem was, but my guess was that I had overtaxed some usually underutilized muscles in my legs during the sprint down Montepulciano.
The place we'd be staying tonight was at a satellite location for the Beehive Hostel. It was in a seedy international neighborhood only two blocks from the train station, with easy access to the platforms servicing trains to the airport.
Our last big Italian activity was a final meal of Ethiopian food (the Ethiopian neighborhood being conveniently near the train station). We went to the restaurant named Africa because I preferred the wats there (and I didn't know if the injera would change depending on the batch). Gretchen was disappointed with the lack of sourness in tonight's injera, and we were both underwhelmed by service; the staff and what I took to be their extended families were all out in the front room watching what was either a Middle Eastern or Ethiopian pop star competition (similar to American Idol). Our waiter ignored us for long stretches of time and we'd have to go out and fetch him whenever we needed something.
On the walk back home, we ducked into a final church (Basilica del Sacro Cuore di Gesù) either just before or just after evening services. Compared to the relatively spartan churches of Montepulciano, it was an awesome spectacle, but no more so than many others in Rome. There was a beggar out in front, so Gretchen gave him some of the extra coinage we weren't going to be needing outside the EU.
Back in our hostel, where we had our own room but shared a bathroom with others, we decided to watch the mock thriller The Other Guys (which we'd both seen before not long ago). I hadn't brought it with me on my computer, but I had been able to download it using Bittorrent using WiFi at other hotels. Interestingly, thePirateBay.org is blocked by Italian law (requests to that site are sent instead to localhost; evidently there's a Great Firewall of Italy), so I'd been forced to use IsoHunt.com to find my torrent files. (I could have also used a proxy, but that tends to junk up your browsers with advertising.)
Morning clouds over Tuscany to the east of Montepulciano.
Morning clouds over Tuscany to the east of Montepulciano.
Looking down on the west side of Montepulciano.
Looking down on the west side of Montepulciano.
An actor doing his stroll through Piazza Grande during the filming of a scene.
Osteria Del Conte: The pici is all gone once again!
Don't throw a bottle from an Italian Train!
Feeling fine on the train, because I don't have to use the bathroom.
Our room in the Roman hostel had a Roy Lichtenstein theme going on.
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