(Silvana Saccomani is a communications consultant dividing her time between Calgary and Montepulciano. She has sent us this tale about our town: enjoy!)
I love sleep. Sleep loves me. This co-dependent relationship is one my husband Graham, family and friends have had to accept, and is likely the reason I never became a Mother. I could never have forsaken this amante, for another, much less a sleep stealer like a baby.
Travelling is another robber baron in slumber land, but one with which I now have to constantly battle. Having bought our dream pied-a terre in the town of Montepulciano, Tuscany, Graham and I have had to develop stamina for the sleep-deprived, because getting to this medieval town has become a feat fit for those perky participants of the Amazing Race.
I read once that Michelangelo only needed four hours of sleep before starting his day as literally, Renaissance man; I however, cannot manage without my full eight to eleven hours.
Montepulciano, though, is worth the sacrifice. Florentines and Sienese spent three centuries spilling blood for ultimate control of the “Perla del 1500.” A fortressed hill top town that towers over the Valdichiana and Val d’Orcia valleys in southern Tuscany, Montepulciano remains architecturally preserved as a quintessential Renaissance village. Its Piazza Grande and Duomo have seduced Hollywood on numerous occasions: most recently with the filming of I Medici: Masters of Florence starring Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden, now airing on national state television Rai 1.
Legendary, too, is the Vino Nobile of Montepulciano, which the Italian poet Francesco Redi called the King of all Wines in 1685 in his ode to Bacchus of Tuscany; French writer Voltaire mentions the magical grape in his book Candide and since then countless Popes, aristocrats and plebeians have developed a palette for this perfect drink. Nothing goes better with a chalice of the Nobile, than a dish of locally-made pici pasta, covered sparingly in cinghiale (wild boar) sauce, lightly drizzled in the silky olive oil harvested from the nearby countryside, and generous shavings of the sharp Percorino sheep cheese also from the region. Cultural events, including the annual international classical music festival (Cantiere Internazionale) and the ironman-like barrel race competition (Bravio) among the “contrade” or neighbourhoods that takes place in August, complete the dolce vita.
Getting here is straightforward unless you’re travelling on air mile points and then it becomes a gruelling adventure. The fastest, least strenuous route is taking a flight from Calgary to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Florence or Rome and then by car to Montepulciano.
On air mile points it becomes a longwinded marathon: Calgary to London. Layover in London. London to Brussels. Layover in Brussels. From Brussels you fly to Milan and then to Florence and finally by car to Montepulciano.
Developing this stamina has never been an issue in the past because as captain of our team, my husband has assumed the role of travel agent, luggage carrier and driver. In this last regard, after no shuteye for at least 18 hours, he gets behind the wheel of the gutless rental and miraculously morphs into a Formula One Race champion, ready to take on those maledetti Italian drivers on the A1 autostrada.
Oblivious to the tailgating on hairpin turns on the circuit, I, meanwhile, have been sleeping peacefully since Calgary after that first glass of wine on the plane. The grand prize is our safe arrival in Montepulciano where our team captain is for ready for bed and I’m refreshed and alive, ready for a romantic dinner in town.
This sacrifice my good and decent husband has been making since we bought pied-a-terre never hit me until this last trip, which I had to make solo. To prepare I began to train by watching past seasons of the Amazing Race, doing pushups (in case I need to eventually push the car off the road), and practising the sports psychology skill of positive self-talk. At the beginning I control the mental dialogue and the cheerleader-like voice starts by calling out “forza” and “coraggio.” Soon, though, the negative more aggressive voice counters pointing out my expectations are not achievable because I’ve never done it alone before, let alone jetlagged. My imagination runs wild and before you know it, Italians are laying fresh white chrysanthemums next to my lifeless body on the side of the A1.
Now on the ground in Florence, this fear factor sets in and I begin to recite the Ave Maria behind the wheel of the rental – a black mini Smart four-door. It is 1 p.m. The start of the lunch hour in Italy, which goes from 1 – 3 p.m., and here too I say “Grazie a Dio” because the traffic is light. As the battle of the voices compete for supremacy in my head, it is the unexpected infusion of adrenalin that takes me across the finish line, hours later, in the Perla del 1500.
In bed by 8 p.m., I skip supper all together and wake up the next day at 2 p.m. in the afternoon. Sleep, or glorious sleep, how I have missed thee. –End-