While the Norms have been up and down the great boot of Italy, I have been indulging in a more relaxing affair – I’m just back from a sumptuous and sensation-tickling trip to Tuscany and the electric city of Bologna, and as a result I have so much to share that I barely even know where to begin. With sights, sounds and flavour sensations as ripe and abounding as the offerings of Italy in the hot months of the summer, I am felicitous with fresh inspiration, enlivened by my experience, and freshly fulfilled by a holiday of multisensoral pleasure.
I begin my tale in the balmy fresh light of a lazy Saturday morning. I had jetted out to Pisa after work, and arriving close to midnight, the only impression I had thus far gauged of my seaside Tuscan location was the lucid clarity of the fresh sea air (a marked-comparison with central London) and the enticing smell of the pine forests that loll lazily down to the sea edge. In the morning, it was my eyes which gorged ravenously upon the visual sensations all around. From our hotel window, an expanse of golden soft sand, tidily raked every morning, was broken only by the perfect alignment of a hundred blue parasols sat atop neatly arranged loungers. In the distance, green hills were faded into a pale turquoise because of their distance, while further yet still, an almost translucent outline of the island of Elba rose mysteriously above the horizon. While my eyes took in the scene, accompanied by a pure light warmed by the yellow lustre of an early Mediterranean sun, my ears pricked up to the gentle swish of an intermittent wave sliding, rather than crashing, upon the sandy shore. No angry traffic here, no rush of suited Londoners running to squeeze their way onto a delayed, crowded tube. Rather, the only people were those beach workers, silently preparing the space for the later arrival of tourists and locals alike, while nearby, the steamer of a large coffee machine pumped into action for a day full of making creamy cappuccinos and rich espressos.
It was straight to the said coffee bar that we headed, a moment to which I had been looking forward ever since booking my flights some months ago. Nothing surpasses the cappuccinos in Italy, whose coffee is creamy, not bitter, and whose foam is indulgent and thick. Gone is the Cafe Nero takeaway and the sprint to the office – here we had all the time in the world to indulge on the beach’s edge, before the sun warmed to its midday ferocity, and the crowds descended.
When that moment came, we were already gone. My partner took me to see a sight which was bound to get my camera clicking and my artist juices running – a nearby field of sunflowers bursting from the dry soil in a sea of vivid yellow, contrasting sensationally with the deep blue sky all around. Standing in that field, surrounded by flowers equalling me in height was truly incredibly. It was no wonder that these flowers had inspired Van Gogh so. My favourites were the older, dying flowers, with the large human-sized faces, loaded with an incredibly intricate pattern of seed pods, the petals now wilting and drying up, but the flower, in the last stages of its life, still desperately faced towards the sun, turned to its master in relishing the last days of its existence. In Italian, sunflowers are called girasoli, which literally translates as it turns sun – and true to form, it was remarkable to note how these amazing flowers were all turned in one direction, a carpet of yellow faced towards the sun, and a wall of green when seen from behind.
I could have stayed amongst the sunflowers all day, but alas, my photographic adventure did constitute some form of trespass onto this farmland, albeit in the name of art. We returned thereafter to safer pastures – to the incredibly vineyard views of a vineyard known to my partner’s brother, and a nearby field with large bails of hay perfect to inspired Monet himself.
What Milan exudes in fashion and Bologna offers in food, Tuscany has in countryside views which stun and inspire in equal measure – I’m giving a whole post over to these lavish landscapes tomorrow. But the great benefit of where I was staying (Donoratico) was that having had my fill of inland views under a progressively searing sun, the coast with its relieving sea breezes was never far away, and it was to the soft sandy beach of Donoratico that I returned that afternoon, wiling away the hours splashing around in soft silky seawater with light pale-ocre sand squishing softly beneath my toes, until the sun retained its former morning pallor, before retreating back under the horizon in hues of orange, then pink and then a devastating crimson red. Until tomorrow…
- Sunday Supplement ITALIA – Tuscany Wharf: 15km to San Gimignano (normsonline.wordpress.com