Well, when we last left you we were in Portofino. Although we hated to leave Portofino, it was time to move on to our next villa in Greti, Italy. Greti is an even smaller village than St. Leon sur-Vezere. The population of Greti is 357. It is 2.5 kilometers from Greve in Chianti and is under its jurisdiction. Both are in the province of Florence, Tuscany, Italy. The only photo I have of Greti is the wine shop for the Castello di Verranzano, which is located at a cross-road in Greti.
The Castello belongs to the Verranzano Family. Verranzano was an Italian sea explorer who discovered the Bay of New York and New York later named the Verranzano Bridge after him.
Our villa is nice. It is not a Tuscan farm-house, but rather a contemporary home in a subdivision with two other similar homes, (if you can call three houses in a row a subdivision). We have three floors, 4 bedrooms and 4 baths. For one reasonable price, the villa includes a large swimming pool, not heated, and a tennis court that is only heated when Rita and I get into a dispute over a close line call. The villa has a patio where we can take our meals over looking the pool and tennis court. From our patio, we can see the Tuscan hillsides, vineyards and, occasionally, a beautiful sunset.
We have been to Greve, in Chianti. That is where we do our grocery shopping. It is small, but has a town square and 76 restaurants. The population of Greve in Chianti is 15,000. In the town square, which is actually triangular, there is a statute of Verranzano in one corner.
In the other corner, there is a statute that gives new meaning to the word “mooning”.
Almost every night, when we go into Greve in Chianti to buy gelato, a rich creamy ice cream which Italy is famous for, we found an operatic performance being done on the steps of St. Croce church at one end of the town square. I think every resident of Greve in Chianti was present for the outdoor, free performance, which we thought was lovely, but solely in Italian.
Gelato is a soft ice cream made up of at least 3.5% butterfat.
The photo above of the Italian woman dressing will give you some idea of the effect that gelato has on the human form!
Shopping has been a challenge. The one grocery store is not as large as what we were used to in France. All the brands have changed as well as the way the Italians eat compared to the French. And, of course, we have to shop with an Italian dictionary since neither of us “speak” ANY Italian except for ordering gelato. First impression is that the Italians are not bread lovers like the French. The breads are limited, tasteless and hard. The bread is tasteless because it has no salt. It has no salt because the Italians consider bread to be an accompaniment to salty food like salami, pesto and lardon. The Italians even call their bread pane sciocco, which means “stupid bread”. In addition to the bread being tasteless, it can only be eaten within hours of baking or it turns as hard as stone.
Secondly, the Italians eat a lot of cold, but cooked, vegetables like eggplant, artichokes, red and green peppers. We have also not found simple things like garlic salt, crushed dry basil and mozzarella cheese.
We understand that the Italians use the grocery store for their basic staples. Anything worth eating is purchased from the bakery, butcher shop or fish-monger. Since we have only been here a week, we have not located these specialty stores. It takes us awhile because of the language. Bakery is “panificio”; butcher shop is “macelleria” and fish-monger is “pescivendolo”.
We have been on one road trip since our arrival. Chianti is known for Chianti Wine. Chianti wine dates back to at least 1716. Chianti wine must contain at least 70% Sangiovese grapes. They are mostly red wines. So, we took a tour of some red wine vineyards and visited Panzano, Radda, Gaiole, Castelnuovo Berardeng, and Castillina in Chianti. It sounds like a lot of driving, but all these towns are quite close to each other usually within 10 to 15 miles. We tried red and rose wine at Castello di Radda a vineyard that just completed a $35 million expansion project near Radda. We also tasted, and bought some white and red wine, from the Volpaia Vineyards near Radda. There are hundreds of wineries and olive oil farms located in Chianti. No matter how long we are here, we would never be able to visit them all.
Panzano is an interesting little town. When we first arrived in Chianti we stayed our first night in Panzano until our villa was ready. We stayed in a tower room at La Villa Barone. Rita and I couldn’t sleep thinking about all those women locked away in tower rooms in those castles in France we visited. Panzano is dominated by Dario Cecchini, who runs a butcher shop, extraordinare. He also has two restaurants specializing in, naturally……. beef. And, he has been declared by himself to be the “best butcher in the world”, a humble title, as well as the “mad butcher of Panzano”, perhaps a more accurate title. In any event, he is a great marketer. You walk into his butcher shop and you are immediately offered wine and appetizers. In the evenings, the shoppers spill out into the pedestrian street and drink wine, eat appetizers and share travel stories while shopping for meat at the butcher shop.
Back to Greve in Chianti, the town square is lined with many shops. They sell art, products from Chianti, which include wine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. One such shop specializes in ham and pork and takes up three storefronts. There are hundreds of hams hanging from the ceiling waiting to be purchased by carnivores.
In the grocery store, they require you to wear a plastic glove when fondling the fruits and vegetables while making your selection.
See Rita obeying the local rules.
We understand they yell at foreigners who do not get it.
We also found a make of motorbikes known as NRG, which caught my eye since those are my initials.
Rita and I tried our hands at making a pizza over a wood fire at the villa. I built a great fire. Rita made a great pizza. We placed it on the hearth and voila a beautiful pizza emerged. Well, we actually only got the pizza half right. The bottom was not so beautiful. See our photos. Do you think more practice is needed? Yesterday the landlord stopped by and we told him about our pizza. He took at look at our method and said something in Italian like “Dumbasses! You tried to make the pizza on the grill not in the pizza oven!” Apparently, we used the outdoor grill, which looks like a pizza oven, instead of the actual pizza oven, which is located in the lower level kitchen. (Yes, we have two kitchens. I call them “his” and “hers”). It is a nice compromise.
We have only eaten out twice since we arrived in Greve. It has been a bit of a shock. There is no macaroni, spaghetti and meatballs, or baked ziti on the menus. We have not heard of a lot of the pastas and those we have heard of come with strange things on them that we do not like. Our first outing was not good at all. Our second outing at Gallo Nero was much better. We recognized the pasta and its wild boar sauce. We also had a nice salad with toasted bread, tomatoes and greens. The main course was grilled beef. (They did not recommend the fish or the “baby chicken”. We were surprised to find so much beef in Tuscany because we have not seen the first beef farm.
It is our understanding that only the Americans think there is Italian food. The Italians do not believe there is any Italian food. They think all Italian food is regional food. So, when they think of food, they think of Umbria, Tuscany, Piedmont, etc.
Last night, we made another gelato run. When we walked to the town square, there was a beautiful full moon illuminating Greve. We had to take a photo for you.
In addition to playing tennis, we have been riding bikes. The first day I rode to Greve in Chianti and I took a spill on the main street, during rush hour, and really hurt my ego as crowds gathered to see the idiot 66 year old American without a helmet pick up his bike and ride off into the sunset…. Actually it was sunrise…busy time of the day there. Of course, it also happened when there was a bike tour of 8 riders in full bike gear, clothes, gloves and helmets riding by me at the time of the incident. I was not hurt, but my ego was bruised severely. Thankfully, I was alone on this ride and no photos exist to record my humiliation.
Yesterday we went to the town market. It is not at all like the French town markets. It was mostly clothes and shoes and kitchen items. Although we think one merchant was selling his dog,
There were a few vegetable stands. Fruit is really hard to find because, unlike the French, the Italians only eat what is in season. They do not believe in shipping in fruit from other countries. One stand sold roast pig so we bought and tried it. It was delicious.
We hope to visit the market at Panzano today.
Over all, the first week has not been too difficult. We have struggled a bit with getting acquainted with our new house, village, language, shopping, customs and culture, but what the heck. That is why we are here!!
Love and miss you all!
Norm and Rita