The other Sunday, we left our friend’s house with such a happiness and delight, we felt we had fully experienced Tuscany. The day had dawned cold and wet and bleak and our coffee and brioche for breakfast down at the bar, had been a brisk affair, with the rain slanting in on the verandah where we normally sit, making everything a wee bit uncomfortable. Back in the house we were in the midst of making another coffee when our friend, Candido, rolled in, buoyant and enthusiastic. He asked us to come up to his home in Montefegatesi for lunch. There was supposed to be a castagna festa with his photos on exhibition up in the village but he supposed it would be a wash-out, nevertheless, we could still do lunch. So, we hopped in the car and climbed the mountain, mist roiling in the valleys, creating small renaissance pictures, pines stark against the silvery light.
Montefegatesi looks magical in autumn. A picture book village, Montefegatesi is a pinnacle of houses on a high mountain rock. We take the path down into the village from the carpark. We meet one of Candido’s friends, also coming for lunch. He has brought liver as a contribution to the good eating this day. Candido’s little house is abuzz with people making a fire in the fireplace, the dog, big and boisterous, pawing and pushing against us all, wine being poured, loud classical music from crystal clear speakers, Rafaella clattering and banging in the kitchen, lots of laughter, and magnificently, not a word of English. We seat ourselves in the tiny lounge room. The walls are covered in books and record albums and cd’s and the occasional photo precariously perched in a shelf. Comfy couches hug the fireplace. Wine relaxes our ears and our mouths and we think we know what is going on, we beam happily and nod a lot. We grow warm by the crackling fire and all of a sudden we miss a fire in our own home, that lovely smell and sputter, and the communal feeling you get when you are all together staring into its leaping flames.
At last lunch is on the table. We squeeze in together, six of us, and the cats purr at our shoulders, walking the benches behind us as we eat, the dog under the table pushing and nudging our legs. It is a feast. We have liver, seared quickly on both sides, tender and lightly seasoned, barbequed meat, sausage, porcini mushrooms and a fungi that grows on a tree, rare to find, and is cured in vinegar and herbs for a month before it can be eaten, delicious; a potato sformata; an egg cheese and prosciuto roullard, and a salad. The closeness of us all around the table, the complete simplicity and rusticity of our surroundings, the conversation attentive to the food we were eating and the wine we were drinking, all made me feel like I was truly living. Every taste was examined and explained and it was with equal fervor and appreciation, the men with the women, that the culinary preparations were observed. We loved it. It was all so much a celebration of the moment.
We left after coffee to visit the exhibition which was set up in the old theatre. The photos were haphazardly hung around the room, memoirs of the people of Montefeagtesi over the 50 odd years Candido had been a photographer. He was born in 1938 and until recently he had spent nearly all his adult life in New York, returning when his mother had become too old to be alone. He has wonderful stories to tell and from these you hear of his friendship with Robert De Niro, begun when he was commissioned to teach De Niro how to be a taxi driver on set for the film, ‘Taxi Driver’. His contacts are many and he delights in being involved in all the little stories of Bagni di Lucca life, making films in his little village, writing film scripts for Hollywood, setting up an artist incorporation in Ponte a Serraglio, also an annual food fest in Ponte a Serraglio, compiling his photos for a table book of his mountain area, finding cultural buyers for some of the great old villas in Bagni, a hope to return it to its former extravagant glory, just some of his fingers in the pie, but probably much more than I know about.
It was twilight as we drove down the mountain on the narrow perilous road. The mist engulfed us and in this hallowed world we thought we had come out of a dream, a lovely dream, where we had richly partaken in all our senses and felt full to the brim with the great delights of life.