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Report 236: Our Italian Sabbatical

By Trishmael from Louisiana, Fall 2003

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Page 8 of 10: Close Encounters of the Boar Kind

photo by

Boar, well stuffed boar

The first part of our walk was through a well-lit park along the top of the hill, looking down over the valley and Lake Trasimeno (I always tried to picture Hannibal's elephants thundering around down there). Past what appeared to be the Cortona country club tennis courts, we veered off onto a gravel road that wound around for a kilometer or so back to our rental house. There was no light on the road, and although it had stopped raining, the sky was overcast and no moon lit our way, and we had forgotten to take the torch.

I have very bad night blindness, so Gary had me by the arm and was propelling me along, when suddenly I heard an animal-sounding rustling right next to me. We froze. The next sound was grunt grunt grunt. Snort snort. My heart stopped. The snort got louder and angrier.

"What is that?" I asked in the tiniest voice I could summon.

"A boar, I think," whispered Gary.

"What do we do?" I said faintly.

SNORT SNORT SQUEAL

I don't know anything about wild boars except that I had eaten cinghiale in Florence and maybe this one was back for revenge. We had heard lots of gunshots in our windy apartment, so I figured they or something must be in season. Do boars charge people? They can't be too happy with being shot at so much around here---my mind is going a mile a minute when the shadowy figure of the boar appears, dimly, just off to the left and in front of us, and my husband, whose arm I am clutching so hard it must be hurting, and whose mind must also be working, settles on a plan: he BARKS. Like a dog. WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF. And the boar pauses an awful second, then turns and scoots back into the brush and rustles away.

Later I learned that he was harmless and was probably more startled by us than we were by him. Unless it was a her--maybe. Somewhere I read that a wild sow can be... aggressive. Anyway, I prefer my cinghiale in a stew.

The next night we had reservations at our favorite Cortona trattoria, La Grotta (good ravioli). We took the torch this time, but by the time we emerged from the thick stone walls of the restaurant a severe storm was blowing--we hadn't heard the thunder down in the grotto.

Earlier that day we had both bought hats to keep our ears warm, and it was all we could do to keep both hands clamped on them to avoid them blowing off (and thus off the hill, out of town, across the valley....). We stopped at the edge of town and had a coffee to wait for it to blow over. And then another coffee. Still storming.

Reluctantly, we headed out--only to discover that the storm had knocked out all the lights in the park. We doubled back, clutching hats, and asked at the hotel at the end of the road in town if we could get a cab, but the desk clerk couldn't raise one on the phone. He assured us the power would be back on by... domani. Or the next. There was nothing for it but to walk. So there we were, at the top of a hill in a thunderstorm, rain driving into us horizontally, staggering back to a cold windy house in the dark, our path lit only by the occasional bolt of lighting that I was sure would hit us. I took the opportunity to shout lines from the storm scene from King Lear, mixed with some choice curses. HOWL WINDS, CRACK YOUR CHEEKS! AT LEAST THERE WON'T BE ANY *&%+$#@! WILD BOARS OUT IN THIS I shouted. YES THEY'RE ALL SOMEPLACE WARM AND DRY THE POOR NAKED MOTHER&*^%$# WRETCHES screamed Gary. Somehow we made it back, and checked out of the house of wind and rain and boars the next morning.

In retrospect, I'll have to say that our week in Cortona at least gave us some good stories, and a bracing adventure or two. It also gave us:

-For Gary, the haircut of his life, at a barber in town who took over an hour, beginning the cut like Edward Scissorhands, snipping rapidly, and winding down gradually so that I swear each hair got individual attention.

-Another more successful bus trip to Arezzo, and a visit with a wonderfully eccentric proprietor of a store specializing in (what else?) old iron implements, one of which made it home with us.

-A really great torte della nonna at a place I have, alas, forgotten the name of.

-A long morning and afternoon out of the rain spent, respesctively, at the Diocesan and Etruscan museums, the former especially, where we enjoyed seeing the Fra Angelico annunciation and some works by Signorelli, whose frescoes I would see in Orvieto.

-St. Margherita under glass, who, together with the relics in Castiglion Fiorentino, satisfied my saint parts fixation for the week. Our last day in Cortona, the weather cleared up and I actually broke a sweat climbing up the hill to see her.

On All Saint's Day, we rode the bus down from the hill our hotel to Camucia station and got on a train for Orvieto, where we were looking forward to meeting some Slow Travelers for lunch.

PS Click on the link to videos and open the Cortona one for a re-enactment of the cinghiale encounter, done through the magic of editing.

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