by Charlene Burgi
How do I even begin to describe everything about this dream trip? First, I sadly left at home my husband Jack who needed to tend to our critters, but I was blessed to be able to share this adventure with my children. My daughter and son-in-law (Lynette and Jeff), son (Randy), and I arrived at our first destination in the Tuscan hills of Chianti at dusk while it was just light enough to embrace our magnificent surroundings. We found the environment to be a wonderful assault on our senses.
Visually, the beauty of the green rolling hills covered in terraced grapevines reminded me of Sonoma on steroids. The twilight seemed to accentuate the villas and highlight the ancient walled cities proudly sitting alit atop the crest of each rolling hill. Wild vegetation abounded in the hollows that were dotted with the orange-red poppies famously associated with Tuscany.
And what was that fragrance? As we departed from our rented car, the air filled with the scent of star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)—yet there was something more, something I couldn’t identify by scent or sight. The fragrance was much stronger as we approached one of the trees that lined the walk to our vacation home. Large clusters of tiny yellow-green flowers graced the bottom of dark green leaves in the canopy of the tree. Drawing from the recesses of my mind, I remembered the nursery would occasionally carry a tree with these same leaves—little-leaf linden (Tilia cordata). The small nursery trees did not bear the fabulous fragrant cluster of flowers. This new-found knowledge about this flowering tree caused me to regret that more of these trees did not find their way into Marin! The next day, we drove a few miles to the tiny town, Greve, where an alley of linden trees further confirmed the need to share and praise its beauty with you!
It goes without saying that our sense of taste was also enriched. Fresh fruit and vegetables were plentiful and locally grown. I failed to mention that one of the trees leading to the door of our vacation home was laden with a type of sweet berry. The big heart-shaped leaves on the tree were a dead giveaway that the tree was a fruiting mulberry (Morus alba). Typically found in Marin are the fruitless mulberry trees that play havoc on sidewalks with their shallow root systems. However, the marble gravel walk to the doorway was not jeopardized by these roots, and the berries were delicious as we sampled from this big tree.
Our first dinner in Tuscany continued to shock our senses—specifically Jeff’s senses as the proprietor suggested he try an aperitif made at their establishment. To date, we all continue to howl remembering Jeff’s expression as he indulged in what appeared to be a green slime liquid. After imbibing, however, he stated it was an amazing drink. We were all taken aback when told the drink was made from the leaf material of the hedge surrounding the outdoor patio. Our hostess, struggling with our lack of understanding in Italian, quickly departed from the restaurant and returned with leaf in hand—Grecian laurel (Laurus nobilis)—the true bay leaf that is called for in our recipes.
That night, we all turned in anticipating what the next day would bring. Little did we realize we would soon experience the screaming calf muscles that would result from traversing the steep hills and clambering up countless steps to explore all Tuscany held in store for us. I fell asleep that first night to the sound of perhaps a nightingale or mockingbird. My senses were still on overload but too tired to identify the lovely song.
More to follow next week.