We turned off the highway by Modena and followed the river, and then started to climb the switchback roads up into an area we haven’t been before. The Apennine mountain range runs the length of Italy – a jagged zipper on the boot that cuts the country in half – from Piemonte to Sicily. I had to cross them every time I went in and out of Ascoli to get to Rome. Since we’ve made it up to ski in Abetone, but other than that, we’re usually just crossing them to get elsewhere.
We had three days off, and when the forecast in Tuscany was up over 104F/40C, and seemingly the entire population of Italy had already drifted toward the beach, we looked the other way – wanting peace and space and fresh air. Plus, we wanted to bring Luna.
I called Raffaele on the number they had sent us fifteen minutes before we got to the meeting point, on the side of the road in between one tiny town and the next, and as we rounded the corner, his big LandRover sat expectantly on the shoulder of the road that overlooked the valley.
We got out and said our hello’s, threw our bags into the trunk and hopped in as he apologized for the mess inside the car. As we turned up the dirt road, I understood why we couldn’t drive ourselves. The ruts were deep and dry. Made during the mud of the spring, or maybe even the last rainstorm, anything other than a tractor and Rafaelle’s car would bottom out. Even up here in the mountains, we could still feel the burn of the heatwave, though here even if the ground was dry, the breeze was still cool, like a New England summer.
“Where are you from?” Rafaelle asked in Italian from the driver’s seat. Such an easy question for some, for us it takes a few minutes to get through it. Florence, Boston, California, Damascus.
“Ahh so he was the stereotypical creepy Italian, eh?” Rafaelle joked as we passed a barn full of cows. The sign on the side said they were certified for Parmesan cheese production. “I think they sell their milk at seven in the morning and then again at seven at night,” he informs us. Rami looked back at me and grinned and I nodded – a silent, already-agreed-upon decision – the next day was definitely perfect for going on a hike for milk. The road continued past a statue of Mary, then dropped down into more dirt as we hugged the side of a cow pasture and then tunneled into the woods.
Then the trees started to thin and the sunlight filtered back onto the dirt road, and another meadow opened up in front of us. I first noticed the patch of sunflowers downhill by the treeline, but when I look up, I gasp audibly. Down the field and placed perfectly upon the next hilltop, the tower stood stoically against the panorama of the mountains beyond.
Rafaelle chuckled as we drove toward the tower.
“There’s another way down to the cars, right there,” he pointed next to the tower, “but I just like the other road for the…” and he gestures to it all, and I completely understood. This is his moment. The one where you get to see a human experiencing pure beauty – even just for a moment. I know it. I used to see it every day when I was a tour guide. It’s when you know something is special, and then you’re the one that gets to show it to someone else. You can feel the joy spreading inside you as it spreads across their face. I’d bathe in the “oohs” and the gasps as the bus would hit that one turn on the Amalfi Coast when I was guiding, and it’d wake all the students up to the lights of Sorrento reflecting out into the sea. Every so often, I’m rounding the corner of Piazza Duomo at the same time as another human that hasn’t seen that big dome and everything that comes with it before, and I usually take a moment out of my day, pause a few steps, just to see the wonder hit their face.
This man loved what he has built, and he loves sharing it even more, and I knew it then – with his excitement over my excitement, that this is a special place, because the people that built it love it just as much as we do.
We pulled up and the cicadas roared around the tower. Luna took off the minute her feet hit the ground, reveling in more space than she has at the dog parks at home. I stood in the sun and breathe the fresh air and listened to the bugs and the birds and the quiet and looked out over nothing but everything.
It was perfect.
“She won’t head into the woods, right?” Rafaelle asked as we walk around the tower. “They’ve spotted a wolf around here not too long ago. Just be careful.” (And I was worried about boars.) The doors are wooden with metal studs. The skeleton key is the size of my hand. “The only man able to make it for me was in Florence,” he explained. “Actually I was wondering if you could help me and deliver something to him? His workshop is worth the visit in itself.” We agreed, of course, and I make a mental note to make sure to take a camera when we visit.
The key clicks in the lock and the doors open, and we step inside to the shade of the stone.
Check back for more tomorrow! 🙂