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Report 1043: Luggage, Lattes and Lunacy

By Palma from California, Spring 2006

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Page 5 of 17: May 23: Cortona GTG and Pecorino Gelato

photo by waiter

Cortona GTG

After only one cup of cappuccino from my new pot, I schlepped my small wheeled bag and pillow down the five flights, and down the front stone steps. I then waited 45 minutes in front of the house smoking and pacing. We left an hour later than planned (I was to learn this was not only typical, but only an hour would seem like a blessing in the days to come), and headed for Cortona. I am used to Brad’s competent but aggressive driving in Italy, being in the fast lane on the autostrada, and enjoying the smaller scenic routes between hill towns. Ida drove slowly and cautiously, often getting lights flashed or honks, while she swore a running commentary on the “crazy drivers” who passed her 60 kph pace. She drives an SUV at home, and was not used to our smaller, lower, Mercedes 320 automatic rental car.

After three long hours, we arrived in Cortona. I was excited about the GTG, and we parked and walked straight to Il Girasole. Alessandra greeted me with a warm, “You are Palma! I know you from your pictures!” We then met Tanya and Keith, who also live in Cortona, and soon, Colleen C. and her husband Jim, who had just arrived in Cortona from five days in San Quirico. We all agreed to meet at 1 for lunch at Osteria del Teatro.

Ida and Gail took off to shop, and Alessandra did her best to call her bank as a merchant and see if there was anything that could be done for me in Cortona. She was told that no bank in Cortona would give me a cash advance on my MasterCard. Colleen and Jim graciously offered to let me charge lunch on my credit card, and to pay me their share in Euro. I selected some beautiful linens from Alessandra’s shop: a coral and taupe runner, six placemats and napkins.

I wandered around town, of course stopped for a latte, as I was WAY undercaffinated, and met the group for lunch at one. We walked to the charming restaurant and met more Slow Travelers that Alessandra had invited to join us. There was a lovely couple from Florida, and cousins of Deborah’s, 12 of us altogether.

We started by sharing Alessandra’s melted cheese with truffles. I had a wonderful fillet steak with pink peppercorns and pecorino. Keith’s asparagus risotto with strawberries and prosecco was a taste I can’t wait to recreate at my next dinner party. I shared a bottle of vino bianco with Jim, and we tried “interesting” gelatos for dessert. I had pear-pecorino which I liked with its subtle pear flavor and a slightly salty finish. Colleen’s fennel gelato was much better than it sounds, and we all agreed that Ida’s black cherry-cioccolata was awful. It was a three-hour lunch with great food, delightful company and a group picture before we left.

We left Cortona at 4 and drove on past Montipulciano and Monticchiello to our home for two nights at my favorite B&B, L’Olmo. We were greeted by my friend Ubaldo, and found that his beautiful lady friend Dennee, was visiting for a month. Ubaldo had introduced us to Dennee when they visited us on New Year’s Eve during his holiday in Los Angeles. Ida and Gail loved the beautiful grounds, pool area and charm of L’Olmo. We had a lovely suite at the top of the stairs. Gail and Ida shared the bedroom, and a bed was set up for me in the sitting room, complete with fireplace, three stuffed easy chairs and a stunning view of Pienza outside my window.

We relaxed for a while, and left at seven for a walk around Monticchiello before our dinner at La Porta. I had a glass of Vernaccia, gnocchi in pecorino sauce, and rolled, stuffed filetto di manzo. Ida and I shared a lovely dessert with espresso soaked crumbled Amaretti topped with marscapone cream and chocolate sauce.

Here I must interject what I think was the beginning of the downhill relationships in our group. As a therapist, I am a believer in “owning your own stuff”; so, I’ll go first. I am a lovable, 30 lb. overweight, tall woman with a bad foot and painful bunion. I am warm, bright and funny, optimistic and most people like me quickly. I hate exercise (except swimming which I do daily for my health). Shopping is my best form of aerobic activity. I drink an average of one glass of white wine every two weeks at home, but in Italy, I believe it should be part of my daily caloric intake. I am also a (I believe considerate) smoker and I drink way too much coffee. So shoot me, but I am a nice, jolly person. (No smoking lectures on the boards, please, or I won’t cook when you visit me!) I have a rodent phobia and escalators make me dizzy. Given all of this, I lead a relatively “normal”, happy life; have a wonderful loving husband and a great circle of close friends. I am known for being easy-going, flexible and non-judgmental.

Ida and Gail are health professionals (chemo research nurse and pharmacist). They are health and exercise nuts and spent several hours everyday discussing fitness, “roughage”, constipation, and everyone they knew who was sick or had died of cancer. I got the daily smoking lecture, and rolled eyes when I ordered cheese (which I did every chance I got). Gail often would comment on cheese being “binding”, yet I was the only one of us who was having no problem in this area while they were both eating bags of prunes and fiber bars daily, and searching the pharmacies for suppositories. Gail announced early on that she “hated butter”, never ate mayo or any creamy dressing, and wouldn’t go to a movie theater because she hated the smell of popcorn. I like my popcorn swimming in the stuff, or not at all. I think you can start to see the writing on the wall.

Back to La Porta: During dinner, Ida and Gail announced that the agreed-upon plan of me putting our two nights at L ‘Olmo on my credit card, and them giving me cash was no longer going to happen, because they wanted to use credit cards to get frequent flyer miles. My cash was down to the sixty Euro I had collected from Colleen and Jim in Cortona. All I needed cash for was a daily latte or two and to add cell phone time for my daily talks with Brad. Our bill came, and as I was the one who could do math quickly in my head, I divided the bill in three as we had been doing so far. Gail announced that I had a glass of wine, and Ida and I ate dessert, so she should pay less. Ida said, “I wish Brad and Bill were here to figure out the math.” I was on my last nerve, low on cash, close to tears that they could be so selfish, and that they had reneged the offer to let me use my credit card for L’Olmo, so I said, “If Brad and Bill were here, they would throw in their credit cards and split it without bickering over the bill.” Gail said, “I’m tired of paying for people’s drinks!” I very calmly said, “I think it usually comes out in the wash, like the sixty Euro worth of groceries I bought in Pisa that you’ve eaten, and I’ve had none of except coffee. Why don’t you just put in what you think is fair.” We had a few minutes of tense silence, before I went out in front to have a cigarette and buy a cappuccino from the bar with cash!

We returned to L’Olmo in silence around 9. Ubaldo and Dennee were in the living room area drinking wine, and invited us to join them. Ida and Gail went up to bed, and I stayed and had a lovely evening with them. I thought it was ironic that Dennee (who I had met only once before), generously offered to loan me money until we both got back to California, which I of course refused, but very much appreciated the gesture. My “friends” were more interested in 200 frequent flyer miles. This was unbelievable to me. Quote of the day: (Keith in Cortona) in reference to my habit of waking up early in Italy and not wanting to miss a moment. “I can sleep when I’m dead.”

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