Monday, July 6, 2009

These days in Tuscany

These days in Tuscany are not hard on me. Relaxing is the better word, save for the heat, but we all know by now that I’m no sun bunny. I’m volunteering as a pilgrim greeter in one of the most picturesque pilgrim houses along the whole of the 1,400-mile length of the via francigena, and I’ve stayed in nearly all of them, so I know of what I speak.

Among the benefits of having made a pilgrimage along either the via francigena or the camino to Santiago, is it qualifies one for being a pilgrim greeter in any number of houses in Tuscany, for example. This is entirely different from being a volunteer in one of the pilgrim houses in Spain. From what I’ve heard and what I’ve witnessed, that’s hard work. The smaller houses accommodate 100 pilgrims; the larger ones more than 3,000! Yikes, what a business! Okay, I don’t like the heat and I don’t like crowds.

In comparison, this is a vacation in the Sienese countryside. The pilgrim house here sleeps five, but if needed, other rooms in the building usually rented to tourist families can be reserved for groups of pilgrims to increase the number to 20. Most commonly, two pilgrims wander in every day in the summer from San Gimignano, some 30 kilometers to the north. The next pilgrim stage is Siena itself where convents abound to accommodate pilgrims and tourists alike.

I have very nice accommodation in an attached townhouse to a 13th century church, my own bathroom and kitchenette, a desk where I can write with an incredible view down from this castle town of Monteriggioni, across the vineyards, the fields of sunflowers, and the olive groves separated by the ubiquitous Italian cypress trees… this idyllic tranquillity is hard to beat.

I only just arrived yesterday evening. As there was no pilgrim greeter last week, the tireless priest covered the needs of the pilgrims in addition to his parish duties, but left the cupboards rather bare. I look forward to heading out in the morning to re-acquaint myself with the contadinas, the local farmer-ladies who attend bursting kitchen gardens. Last year, I shared the pilgrim greeter position with an Italian grandmother who showed me the ropes of being a greeter and who insisted I only speak Italian (really, the best way to learn a language).

If there’s luck like last year, in my morning walk, I’ll be able to get some surplus tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, and herbs, and some eggs with real luck… to supplement the pilgrim dinners I’ll prepare nightly to any of the pilgrims who want it.

It’s hard to go wrong making a meal out of the ground around here - the table wine and olive oil that come from the hillsides below this castle, the chickens and pigs are free-ranged on all of the farms around. I hope to walk further afield in my free mornings of the next two weeks to find some good cheese… Life here is pretty hard to beat.

1 comment:

Rita said...

Oh you make Tuscany sound soooo lovely. I remember well the beautiful landscape and tranquil countryside in that area. Thank you for sharing.
I would love to be a greeter(it does osound easier than a volunteer at an albergue) after I walk my first Camino in September.