Before leaving for this trip to Europe, I felt that I already had a friend in Italy. I told people at home that I was going to see my buddy, Sergio Settesoldi. You see, during the reservation process, Sergio and I had replied to each other several times. Since I use gmail, he was able to see my profile photo and he noticed my jewelry and asked about it. How could I not like him after that?! Well, I really had no idea what friends Sergio and Cecilia would become.
We arrived at Agriturismo Settesoldi around 6 pm and had just enough time to settle in and walk to the top of the hill to view San Miniato in the evening sun.
Then we were asked to come into the kitchen while Cecilia prepared dinner. Because of having celiac disease, I had asked for gluten free meals during the reservation process at each agriturismo. That way, they would be able to prepare ahead of time for my special diet. So far, each one had made meals that I could eat and had served gluten free bread or crackers. But Sergio and Cecilia explained that they had taken this need of mine very seriously. Cecilia did not speak much English, but Sergio did and he showed me that they had purchased a special pot, plate and cutlery for me to use. They knew about the real problem of cross contamination from using items that prepared meals with grains. I couldn’t believe it! Such thoughtfulness. Sergio explained that they wanted to learn about this problem of celiac disease. So, I tried to explain about it in English words that he would understand.
I was so touched by their kindness. Sergio and Cecilia really cared about my health and said they would be watching my face while I was there to see if I felt well. This brought tears to my eyes. I was not used to being so fussed over and told Matt that this was difficult for me. He said that it was my turn to let someone serve me and that I should just enjoy it.
It was a chilly night and they had a fire lit in the living area. We had the choice of eating in the dining area or Sergio said he could bring in a table and place it right by the fire. Matt and I had been chilled several times so far on this trip and a fireside meal sounded ideal. Then something wonderful happened. One of the reasons that we had wanted to stay in agriturismos was because they were supposed to be a way of experiencing the real Italian culture. Several reviews of places had mentioned interacting with the family and even eating meals with them. This had not happened in our experience as of yet. In fact, the agriturismos that we had been to thus far seemed more like hotels on farm land. But not at Agriturismo Settesoldi. After rolling in the table to sit in front of the fire, Sergio set the table for four. At first I thought there must be two other guests to be coming, but instead after bringing out the food, Sergio and Cecilia sat down with us! We had such a wonderful time chatting. I was glad that Sergio spoke such good English. He was our interpreter so that I could tell Cecilia how much I appreciated the special care she took with my food.
Sergio remembered our conversation about jewelry and brought it up again. He said that the photo with my email looked like I wore jewelry specially made to match my eyes. I ran back to our room and brought out the few pieces of jewelry that I had with me on the trip. They oooooed and awwwed over every single piece and touched them as if they were precious. Sergio asked about the techniques and tools that I used. And then he showed me the one piece of jewelry that he had designed. It was a gold ring that wound seven times around the finger. It was to represent his name, Settesoldi, which means seven money. It was beautiful! I noticed that Cecilia admired one piece of my jewelry, a bracelet. I put it on her wrist and it fit perfectly. I decided that it was a way to show my great delight in the way they were taking care of us. Even though she thought it was too much, I insisted that it stay on her arm.
The next day after breakfast, Matt left for work and I had a whole day to occupy myself. Would I find enough to do? I shouldn’t have given it a thought. Even though Cecilia had left for work, Sergio was still at the house. He showed me where to do laundry and while it washed, I sat in a chair overlooking the beautiful valley and wrote a blog entry. Then I took a walk and explored the countryside.
Then he picked the artichoke that I had earlier taken a photo of and prepared a wonderful lunch while singing along with classical music. When he needed herbs, he stepped just outside and picked them fresh from the garden. And of course he used his homemade olive oil on everything. So yummy! Sergio and I ate on the patio with a lovely view.
After lunch, two men were coming to the house to meet with Sergio. He explained that unfortunately, the beautiful view we enjoyed there was in danger. The “establishment” planned to put a quarry in that valley. Tourism is the main economy of that area of Tuscany and these men were doing all they could to fight this plan. Sergio showed me a documentary video that they had published. The area was also known for white truffles. In fact, it is famous for the largest white truffle found and for the White Truffle Festival that it holds each November. Sergio and his friends have great hope that the importance of the truffle will stop the quarry. I hope so too.
Matt returned from work and we had just enough time to look for a geocache before dinner at “verso otto e mezzo,” which Sergio said with great flourish and moving of hands. Even though he said 8:30, he really meant closer to nine o’clock, so we had time to drive to Buggiano Castello.
This was another town built up on a hill and it was so pretty! I felt like we had discovered an unknown gem since this was not in the tour books. In fact, to go into this village, one needed to park below it and walk up into it.
There were signs all over that said private property and we had to be careful not to trespass. We finally made our way to the pretty church and courtyard there.
She spoke very good English and Sergio put us all to ease with his friendly manner and jokes. While talking of our families, I got out my phone and showed our family photo from Christmas. Lauren could not believe it was our family. She asked how old I was. “No,” she declared. “You cannot be that old! What are your beauty secrets!?” I told Lauren that she was my new best friend! I really liked this girl! Sergio then proceeded to say that Philip looked like Brad Pitt, Jeremy like Hugh Grant and Jonathan like Matt Damon. Matt he said, looked like, well, himself. We all laughed as we tried to communicate with the help of Google translate. Sergio mentioned a plant, mirto, and I couldn’t think what it could be. He typed it into the phone and laughed heartily when I exclaimed, “Oh, myrtle!” He kept repeating it in a funny way. Surely I didn’t sound like that!
Lauren asked about the concept of “Slow Food.” It is a movement to overcome what fast food has done to dinner. Sergio explained that this was what we were experiencing; food prepared freshly right from the land and served with much atmosphere, candles, music. It was meant to be enjoyed throughout the evening with lots of conversation and laughter. Indeed, we were experiencing just that and it was wonderful! This is what I had wanted while staying in an agriturismo. I joked that they did indeed do slow food very well, but that they had fast coffee. Sergio was confused until I mentioned that in the USA we linger over a large cup of coffee, but in Italy, they serve espresso which they gulp down efficiently. He just grinned.
It was time to move on. If I ever get back to Italy, I will stay longer than two nights at Agriturismo Settesoldi. Keep blessing others with slow food, my friend, Sergio!Isn’t that a huge bottle of olive oil?!
See the next part of the story: Italy 6