This post is part of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC6). You can enter by 1/13/14 or enjoy the entries by visiting the Drunken Cyclist. The theme this month is “Mystery” so I thought I’d share the story of our stay in a small town in Chianti. The pieces can be Fiction or Non-fiction. Which is this? You decide. If you like what you’ve read, please vote.
Beyond the walled city of Siena, high on the hills of Chianti, lies a villa with a colorful past. Lilac framed walls welcome you to the olive groves and pine-lined paths. In the distance, the towers of San Gimignano loom and breathe in the setting sun. Built by hand from the local Pietra Serena in the early part of the nineteenth century, each stone holds a story, and some are shared.
In the spring of 2007, my husband and I headed to Rome, loaded with backpacks and visions of vino. We had planned one last hurrah before having children which included planes, trains, and automobiles. Some of the stops would be a return for me, but he had not ever visited Europe so I tried to give him a varied taste of the country. We would spend some time in larger cities and some in hill towns, dine on sardines on the beach of Cinque Terre and wild boar near Lake Como. I knew I wanted to show him a bit of Tuscany so I did a little hunting online and found Villa Luna*. I could see us in the photos, toasting as the sun settled, having a quiet romantic evening and retiring early so we’d be well rested to tour Chianti early in the morning. I got one part right.
When we arrived, we were greeted… how should I put it? Robustly? Clad in red jeans and a contagious smile, Flavio* welcomed us; his enthusiasm for this new venture was evident. He had recently realized his dream of turning the family home into a bed and breakfast and he had much to say about the Villa Luna*. The entryway was lined with military memorabilia from his grandfather, a General in the Italian Army. In the lounge, an homage to his grandfather, the playwright. The entire first floor read like a museum with tributes to his family’s history, but what stood out to me the most in the first few moments of arriving was the bathroom. The walls, covered in graffiti felt like a cacophony of misplaced teenage angst. I tried to reconcile that room with the adjoining room and realized that we were in for an interesting night.
We were shown to our room and had a few moments to trade inquisitive looks and silent snickers before heading out for our tour of the property which began in the “party room.” I don’t know if it was the frenetic orange walls, the disco ball, the eclectic paintings, or another kind of energy, but I just wanted out. From the museum to the graffiti, the disco room to the sculpture garden, it was two worlds juxtaposed in a way that I could not comprehend. Old world meets New world. A childhood home and one that occupied German and Italian armies. At this point, I just wanted a glass of wine. We were hoping to catch the sunset promised on the website and there was no escape in site.
When the tour was over, we went to sit by the pool and catch the display of color , ready for a little time alone. We also had another display of color in the form of “vibrant” conversation. Now, I’m not complaining. Our host was kind, gracious, and willing to help. But, you know when you have a BIG, ROBUST, YOUNG wine and you just uncork it? It can be a little much. It needs some time to breathe, to adjust to the new surroundings, to let up a little. You get my point. I tried to ignore and enjoy, my husband had a harder time with that part.
We headed up to the room to change for dinner and then got recommendations on the restaurants in town. There were two, we were told, that were pretty similar. We should go take a look and decide. We headed down the cobbled hill and stopped to look a the first. It was bustling with a wood fired oven, refined and warm. We decided to check out the other. Blue light, disco ball and empty. Similar? Hmmm. Apt, perhaps.
Needless to say we chose the first restaurant. There was a bit of a wait so they brought us a glass of Prosecco. We tried to make sense of what we had just experienced. Neither of us had never been in a place quite like this, with a host quite like that, but we were in Tuscany. No complaints. My husband ordered the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Florentine-Style Porterhouse, seared over oak fire. Amazing. I chose Pasta Carciofi and a salad. We each ordered a glass of Aiolo Chianti. As we were toasting our evening, Flavio*, dressed down in grey sweatpants, came to check on us, a surprising, but kind, gesture. He invited us to stop in to the sitting room when we returned for some grappa, or as he called it “fire water.”
That was when things got really interesting.
My husband and I joined the other couple staying on the property to hear more about the history of this home and the family. Flavio’s mother had been the first, and only, woman to ride in Siena’s Palio. His grandfather had written a play about the historic event. We learned about the military occupation and how our bathroom had been used as a darkroom during the war. We learned about his days spent playing in the tower room, his graduating class of seven, yes, seven. Grappa might also be called “truth serum” because as it flowed, so did the stories. Whether intentionally or not, Flavio also shared about another guest of the house. One that resided in one of our bedrooms. One that folded pajamas when there was no one in the room and moved around sometimes. And then there was the painting. The painting of the man with his hand in his pocket. The painting that would talk to him.
Now, I am not one that is easily scared, but by the time we went to bed that night, I wouldn’t leave my husband’s side. I stayed with him while he brushed his teeth and insisted he do the same for me. We whispered about what we’d heard as the wind whispered though the trees and I tried to sleep away the fear. I tossed and turned and prayed and fought to sleep. It wouldn’t come. And when it finally did, the images that came with it were worse than the insomnia. War torn villages and deformed children dominated the nightmares. And then we heard it. Not me. WE heard it.
Around 3 or 4 in the morning, both my husband and I were awakened by the sounds. We tried to rationalize it away, the wind? The trees? But trees don’t sound like wild dogs. Vicious angry dogs. On a hilltop in Tuscany. What in the world? I told him that I hadn’t been able to sleep and was having awful dreams. I wasn’t the only one. We would leave first thing in the morning.
We battled through until sunrise, showered, packed, and headed downstairs to say goodbye. The other guests were eating breakfast, but I just wanted to GET OUT. Rapidamente.
And I guess we will never know. Was it too much grappa? Were we both imagining the same thing at the same time? Or do those walls hold secrets that are only told at night? There is no question that the property is a special one with views that are hard to rival. There is no question that Flavio is a kind and accommodating host. But will we go back? That is a question that remains a mystery.
*Whether it was necessary or not, I changed the names of the place and our host. If you must know, contact me.