I am glad my trip so far has been a perfect mix of cities with historical and architectural beauty and places with breathtaking natural beauty. Venice to Piedmont to Florence to Assisi. A continuous flow of noise and people followed by much needed serenity. I really am getting to see it all. In every place I try my best to take it all in…hold on to it for as long as I can…and then let it go.
The drive from the train station to the agriturismo had body-swaying twists and turns causing my luggage to slam against the side of the taxi, but the view was worth repeating the ride 1000 times. The taxi was a large van with seating for 7. More than once I thought the two of us would spill over the edges of the unpaved narrow road and that would be the end of my trip. I have to admit… it was fun watching my driver so focused on making sure not to kill us. It was his first week on the job. Poor guy.
Side note: At this point of my Italian journey I was unaware that driving through the Amalfi Coast would be even more life-threateningly terrifying.
We passed by dozens of trees covered in flowers, bronzed monuments to saints surrounded with candles and cylinders of golden hay scattered among acres of green.
The agriturismo quickly combined all of that beauty and put it in one place.
Letizia was warm and welcoming from the moment she opened the door. I had yet to walk in, but I already felt the calming sensation of finding shelter. She greeted me and apologized that I was her only guest for that evening until a group of women would arrive the next day. I told her, especially after Florence, “that sounds wonderful.”
I liked that my first day I had the place to myself. I liked that Letizia told me this place was “just like home,” because I believed her…and it truly felt that way.
I liked cleaning out my purse and finding receipts from trattorias and maps of towns and thinking about all I had already seen in 12 days. I loved needing to charge my camera because it had been getting so much use, capturing so much of what I had seen so that I can see it all again and again for the rest of my life.
I liked counting my remaining euro and noticing I had plenty to pay for my stay, then forget about anything else business-related for the remainder of my time at Madonna del Piatto. I liked pretending I was walking up the stone steps to my own private high-perched terrace. I liked reading while overlooking the hills and town of Assisi and covering up my toes with my long skirt because they were cold. I was actually cold mid-June in Italy. It was refreshing. The time was 7pm and I was perched on a storybook terrace high above civilization with an overcast sky. I liked deciding on my own to eat and going to the garden-level kitchen to peacefully consume my prosciutto and cheese sandwich while flipping through Letizia’s cookbook. I felt good here.
The second day the family who owned the house had a school meeting, so I was left on my own again for hours. Again, I loved every second of it. I heard the faint rumble of thunder while sitting in the dim common room and almost tripped getting out of my chair so I could run to my upstairs bedroom and see where the storm was coming from. As I ran up the stone and tiled steps I heard another roar of thunder and squealed audibly. I was alone after all.
When I entered my room, rain began to hit the half-cylindrical clay roof tiles. Each tile was about 1.5 feet long and were all unique, some more orange than beige, some a brick red with black spots. When the large raindrops fell on the roof, they looked as though they were being splattered with white globs of paint. The sun was still out in spots, so the reflection off the water must have made the drops look white on the farmhouse roof. Every so often, a drop would hit the window with force directly in front of my face causing my entire body to flinch. I decided to open the windows fully and let the big drops go ahead and hit me. It was wonderful. I giggled every time a drop would collide on my body, and every now and then one would come in with such speed that it would smack almost violently against my skin, scattering water all over my neck. The wind picked up after a few minutes, so I closed the shutters. I wanted to avoid the possibility of the heavy wooden panels hitting the back of my head when another strong gust came in. I stood by the window for a good 20 minutes watching the clouds roll past, rain coming and going, and listening to strong wind as it remained constant… What a perfect time to compare this moment to how bad times roll in now and then but the wind of change is constant… There, I did it. Moving on.
The cooking class was just as informative as it was taken out of a dream I had long ago when I imagined the “perfect Italian journey.”
Letizia showed us the difference between homemade and factory-produced pici pasta. She explained why garlic should not be added to the oil before the zucchini. She talked about cooking like a true chef…food is an art, and much like conducting a symphony, each element must be considered and balanced effectively to create a dish.
“[Cooking] is partly thinking ahead and balance. We have spinach in this meatball, so do not add parsley because it gets lost… What helps the spinach though? Fennel seed…But sometimes it’s trial and thinking…If it tastes good, why does it taste good. Taste everything. Taste the olive oil. Taste the sauce…tastes like ketchup? No good. It’s an exercise…it’s a discipline to find each ingredient.”
In the cooking class there were two daughters and a mother all from Honolulu taking the class with me. It became immediately apparent to me that the daughters truly loved their mother and wanted the best for her. I felt their love for their mother well before we talked about the reasons behind their trip after the cooking class. The daughters wanted her to enjoy her life after doing such an incredible job creating a beautiful life for them. She was retired, but kept babysitting their nephew and never took time for herself. As a result the two sisters forced their mom to take a vacation through a touring group traveling throughout Europe. All three were kind and genuine through and through. As a lone traveler, they made me feel comfortable and laughed at my terrible jokes. They quickly made me feel even comfortable enough to tell them just about everything…about why I took this trip, about bad relationships, about my journey to learn selfishness after years of feeling the need to care for others over myself. I felt no restraint and they made me feel no discomfort or need for hesitation. The wine didn’t hurt either, but I have no regrets in opening up on a beautiful terrace in Umbria.
Of the two daughters, I felt an immediate connection with Marty. As per usual with meeting new people, I ask each person’s name out of habit, shake hands with a smile, then almost immediately forget the names they told me only a few seconds prior. Two of the three names started with M’s. I didn’t stand a chance.
During the class and after a two-glass confidence boost, I decided to apologetically ask them again. The one daughter I felt drawn to most as we rolled out pasta and thinly sliced basil replied with, “Marty…. Like Marty McFly.” This was about ten minutes after Letizia offered the four of us red wine and the two of us shot our hands up immediately, as if we were peacefully rivaling classmates who both knew the correct answer in math class. “My kind of cooking class classmate,” I told her.
Her and I seemed to share a perspective on everything and a comparable energy toward the class and honest terrace conversation. Without question we even knew to top off each other’s wine glasses and plates of pasta whenever either showed even a hint of lacking. She told me more than once “girl you know I got you” while filling up my glass…and I truly believed her. I barely knew her but she was someone who just had my back, no doubt in my mind. Her witty banter and straight-faced sarcasm kept us on the same level from the moment I met her to the moment we said our goodbyes. We knew each other only a few hours, but we will be friends for life. The reasons I can clumsily put into words in this post do not even begin to explain why. It was a way in which we communicated with and without words…how simple and painless it was to be holistically honest, even more than I am with myself…to know that I had made a life long friend.
Assisi…the tranquility, the words said and not said, the experiences felt, the wisdom, the beauty, the laughter, the honesty…Assisi is where I felt gratitude most during my solo journey of Italy.
Where I stayed:
Agriturismo B&B alla Madonna del Piatto
Via Petrata, Assisi PG, Italy
Link to Letizia’s Cookbook: