Chianti countryside

Our next three nights were spent in the countryside at the Villa Il Leccio. I was fortunate to be assigned the eldest son’s suite, which included a room for his nursemaid and a lovely view. I felt like I had been dropped into a movie set.

The Villa is run by Gaida, whose family has owned the Villa for generations. She is a warm, welcoming presence and a wonderful cook.

Breakfast every morning was fresh, wholesome and abundant. Dinners were spectacular. I highly recommend this Villa. It is a great getaway place, quiet and comfortable. The surrounding countryside is serene; a perfect place for retreat or reunion.

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Some of our group hiked to the lake on the property.

Exploring Tuscany

We drove south from Florence and made a stop at the Florence American Cemetery, where more than 4,000 Americans are buried. This cemetery is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Our guide, who was from New York, shared the history of the cemetery and told a few stories of the service people buried there. Then we had some time to walk through the grounds.

It was now the end of the day, and our guide asked if we would help her take down the flag. We walked to the flagpole as Taps played from a loudspeaker.

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This happned to be on Veterans Day, November 11, 2022.

Becoming an elder

For Christmas, a friend got me a subscription to a magazine on spirituality. I was enjoying the articles in the first issue, on topics from resilience, joy, domestication and healthy hips.

And then I got to the retreat section, featuring spas and meditation centers in places like Costa Rica and Mexico. I skipped those pages since they are unlikely destinations and went to the more-possible selection of sites in the States. Then I landed on one called modern elder academy, and I thought, this is for me, seeing as how I am an elder (71 years old) and I am reinventing myself (modern?).

But it seems that in modern parlance, I am probably more of an ancient because this retreat is geared for elders who are in their forties. You read that right—forties!

When did forty-year-olds become elders?

Has life expectancy dropped precipitously?

I was confused.

I thought we were in a period of having the most centenarians in history. If forty-year-olds are elders, what is someone who have lived more than one hundred years?

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Then I remembered back to the late nineties (when I was in my forties) and my first essay was published. I started getting emails asked me to become resident expert from a variety of e-journals and blog sites. At first, I ignored them because I didn’t understand why I was getting them. Expert? What could possibly qualify me as expert?

But the requests kept coming, so I finally responded to one and was told that since I published an essay on forgiveness, I qualified as an expert. One essay? An expert? I don’t think so.

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A few years after that, I started working with post-college graduates and realized that in the thirty years since I was twenty, a lot had changed. These young people said things like, “I have been doing (insert activity) for years.” “You are only twenty-something,” I would reply. “How many years can it be?” The answer was usually “two” or “three.”

At the time, I was also teaching knitting to mostly twenty-somethings who were going on two-year overseas service assignments, and during one of my knitting classes, one woman asked if I had been knitting for long. “Not too long,” I said. “Maybe ten years.”

“Ten years!” she exclaimed. “That’s almost half my life. That’s very long.” Perspective, I thought.

Then there was the young man who had meditated for fifteen minutes a day for thirty days and raved about how meditation has changed his life. “That is a good start,” I said, and then added, “Come talk to me when you have been meditating fifteen minutes a day for fifteen years.”

Those are now the people who are hitting their forties, and given their confidence in their twenties, I can see that at forty, they might consider themselves full of wisdom—like elders.

Me? I finally accepted my expert status when I was in my sixties and am just now settling into my status as an elder, at seventy-one.

Florence, part 2

We walked through this gate in the wall around Florence and began our walking tour of the city.

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The Uffizi Gallery was my destination for the afternoon, and, of course, one afternoon was just enough for a small taste of the treasures housed there.

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BEATO ANGELICO, The Pontassieve Madonna, c. 1435

Among the many religious paintings of the Annunciation, Madonna and Child and life of Jesus, was one wall with the Seven Virtues by Piero del Pollaiolo. Each panel held fascinating details.

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Prudence

Florence has now been added to my list of places I want to visit again.

A day in Florence, Italy

Our walking tour in Florence began on top of a hill outside the city.

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We walked through the Rose Garden, and even though it was November, roses were still blooming. The garden is maintained by volunteers, and I imagine in summer it is full of color and scent.

Given my love for whimsy in the garden, I could not resist cozying up to the man on the bench (our tour guide said this man was known for bringing luck in love–still waiting).

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Our Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) tour group posing with a whimsical suitcase photo frame.

From the Rose Garden, we walked down the path and through the gates into Florence.

Italian marble quarries

Our first excursion outside Lucca was to the Carrara Marble Quarries, about an hour’s drive northwest. I had never given any thought to where marble comes from, so I was awestruck when I learned that what I thought was snow on the mountain top was actually a mountain of marble.

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We were greeted by the company’s owner and given hard hats.

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And then we walked inside the quarry. As in the limestone quarry in Les Baux, I was entranced by how high the quarry walls are. In this working quarry, we learned about the history of marble and watched marble being cut into huge slabs.

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Looking up along the saw blade, inside the quarry.
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A wall of marble

True love lasts a lifetime

True love lasts a lifetime, Emma Thompson declares in Love Actually, (my second favorite movie) referring to her love of Joni Mitchell, a love I share.

My favorite movie, though, is Dirty Dancing, and I have loved it since it was first released in 1987. Dancing-in-the-basement was part of my teen years in my working-class neighborhood in Detroit, and, well, Patrick Swayze as a dancing, working-class hero hooked me.

Soon after the movie was released, a woman I knew through work wanted me to apply for a job in Atlanta, where she lived. Atlanta didn’t particularly attract me, but this woman had grown up in Houston, near Patrick Swayze, and had taken dance classes with Patrick’s mother. She actually knew Patrick Swayze!

I said that if she could arrange lunch with Patrick I would move to Atlanta (my decision-making criteria was fairly superficial). She could not pull that off, but a few months later, this picture arrived in the mail.

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The inscription is faded; it reads “To Madeline, Best wishes, Patrick Swayze.”

I was in heaven. A signed photo from Patrick Swayze. I have carried this picture with me through all my moves and placed it on my desk at every job. True love does last a lifetime.

All of this came back to me when I was in Lucca, Italy, buying a scarf at Zazzi Dalamano. Vladimir is one of the company’s owners, and he was in the store the day I bought my scarf. When Vladimir discovered I was from Michigan, he gasped and said his favorite singer is from Michigan.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Madonna,” he said, with a sigh that reminded me of how I say Patrick Swayze’s name—somewhat dreamy and wistful.

The person I was travelling with, also from Michigan, actually lived near Madonna and went to the same high school although not at the same time. This information brought another gasp from Vladimir—his connection to Madonna had just gotten closer.

He then told us the story of how he has loved Madonna since he was eleven years old and how he took the train to Rome (about three hours away) to see Madonna in concert when he was eleven. He didn’t say he used his First Communion money, but where else would an eleven-year-old get money to buy a train ticket and a concert ticket?

Anyway, he told his mother he was going to Rome to see Madonna, and she didn’t believe him. I can imagine her rolling her eyes and saying, “Of course you are going to take the train to Rome to see Madonna,” her voice dripping with skepticism.

But he did it, and he has not missed a Madonna concert since then.

I offered to try to connect with Madonna and have her visit his store the next time she is in Italy.

“Oh, no, don’t do that,” he said. “I would have a heart attack and die if Madonna walked into my store.”

Okay, then, I will try to get a signed picture.

True love does last a lifetime.

Sights on the streets of Lucca

I was in Lucca, Italy, for six days and walked the twisting, turning streets (and often felt lost, although I was following Goodle maps). I enjoyed the sights along the streets and fell in love with the City.

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I thought there might be something magical or miraculous about the water in this fountain, but it is just water the locals drink.