Belting up the Autostrade from Rome in a navy blue Fiat yesterday, I shared the same will as the Little Red Engine chanting 'I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can' while being pushed (all to frequently and just as I thought I'd nailed it) to the other side of the dual road by powerful Audis travelling at speeds reserved for a jumbo jet. It was two hours filled with a liberation experienced in the very best scenes of Thelma and Louise, just without Louise (or Thelma, as you like) and a much younger Brad Pitt. Oh, and a murder scene with the day saved by Harvey Keitel as the cool headed cop.
Stopping at Agis more than once, I enjoyed coffees good enough to put the Melbourne hipster cafe scene to complete shame, before continuing on my journey to Rivotorto, a tiny little hamlet just outside of beautiful Assisi- an ancient town nestled in the Umbrian hills.
I eventually hit the Via Ponte Todero – an unsealed road with as many forks as your average kitchen drawer, lined by blooming olive trees and a thousand different types of spindly grasses. After almost an hour of reversing, and reversing again, followed by only two or three mutterings about ducks and ships (or words that might rhyme with duck and ship) while the GPS kindly assured me that I had to turn right, turn right, turn right, turn right, I turned her off and was thrilled to finally discover the sweetest little stone cottage flanked by a swimming pool and more olive trees with little stone pathways leading to geranium filled pots and a dried up stream below. A topless man named Mario greeted me as he scooped olive leaves out of the 'piscina' (just add an A in Italy) – 'I'm seventy,' he told me 'it's tough being 70,' before he lugged my suitcase up the hill to the studio that I was to call home for the next three days. I seem to recall thinking that Mario looked more like forty than seventy, before looking around my sweet little bedroom, feeling a type of perplexion that is becoming more and more frequent in my travels.
The website of this bed and breakfast boasts more than just the bed and shower that Mario had proudly shown me (much as they were both very appealing). There was the promise of a tranquil silence (why is there a family squabbling right next door I thought to myself), a fully equipped kitchen with long rustic dining tables (the small shelf with a kettle and four plastic cups at the end of my bed was not going to cut it- where was the fridge for my wine?) and a swimming pool amongst established olive trees (tick, thank god). I asked Mario (who I had, by now, established was the father of Arianna, the woman who runs this lovely little oasis) if there was a 'frigo' for me to store milk and wine, and where could I make coffee in the morning? Mario scratched his head, now joining me in my state of perplexion, before taking me to the pool house where he dusted off an old fridge, surrounded by deflated pool toys and ancient furniture, and plugged it in, telling me that I was welcome to use it for the duration of my stay. Had Mario not been one of the most charming men in the world who was making every effort to make me comfortable – all in English with smatterings of Italian, I would have picked up the fridge and thrown it into the pool. Rather than being silly and getting bothered about the fridge and seemingly false advertising on their website, I smiled and took myself off to my room and emailed Arianna, thanking her for Mario's warm welcome and efforts towards making me comfortable, before noting (very gently) that I thought that I had booked to stay in a 'fully equipped cottage,' a house, not a single dorm. 'But nevermind' I wrote, 'I am very happy here,' before going off to google 'places to stay in Assisi.'
A short while later, having decided that I needn't worry and I should just be grateful to be here (much as three days without a kitchen and the thought of a highly needed homemade salad not coming into fruition haunted me, not to mention the idea of NO coffee for three days while drinking hot wine as I type this blog bothered me), I packed a little bag and set off down the pathway for Rivotorto, a small village just a short walk from the bed and breakfast. As I reached the front gate, Mario emerged from under the olive trees, breathless, telephone in hand, while looking as though he'd seen a ghost, 'forgive me,' he begged, 'I made an error- my daughter phoned, you are in the wrong room, you must come with me and I will show you everything.' With that, we walked back up the hill and he took me through the sweetest little cottage across the courtyard, forming the extension of my room (as it turns out, the squabbling family had moved into my cottage by mistake). I was thrilled to see a fridge stocked with a large piece of salami which Mario insisted I eat (I may or may not have had a generous wedge last night), power points in abundance, more coffee pots and beautiful ceramic cups than I could ever wish to utilise, and a long kitchen table the perfect size for writing. I thanked him just as profusely as he apologised, and he shook my hand before sending me down the garden path to Rivotorto 'you can walk, you have good shoes,' he said, waving me off with a triumphant smile, hands tucked neatly behind his back.
Twenty minutes later I reached the town of Rivotorto after having my ankles nipped by every dog in the village. Old women smiled while slumped in their plastic chairs that were perched in gardens made up of concrete and vines amongst a conservative smattering of pots filled with basil and geraniums. Two little boys chased me down the street shouting 'ciao' before running in the other direction, choking on their own laughter. Kittens emerged from underneath wood sheds and fireflies zapped around me. The drone of the Autostrade could be heard in the distance, and the beautiful, ancient town of Assisi watched over the valley from above.
Following a crisp ale at the bar in Rivotorto enjoyed amongst a concert of shouting from the local pool hall, after a successful trip to the supermarket, I returned to my new home last night just as the sun began to set in the distance, cicadas and fireflies keeping me company in the absence of the squabbling family who had gone out for the night. This morning they departed, and with that, I took my lily white self to the swimming pool decked out in in the navy Monoprix swimsuit that hasn't seen the light of day since that day at the piscine in Paris. Mario visited with his beautiful wife Sylvia as they checked that everything was ok, and they left after at least half an hour of talking about Melbourne and all of their friends who now live there.
Tonight as I made the walk back into Rivotorto, every dog in the village attacked me (again) as Nonnas screamed at them from underneath the olive trees. I've never been afraid of dogs, but these little Umbrian pupettes have got me dancing on my giant toes. After fetching a much needed tomato from the supermarket for my second salad in as many days, I returned to the bar for a crisp ale under the evening sun and the 'protective' gaze of a man no younger than 564 years, before he mounted his three wheel Piaggio and chugged off into the distance. Ancient Fiat Pandas puffed around the roundabout and children screamed with laughter in the distance.
The cicadas started up again as I made my way back up the hill to this little oasis, newly quiet and all to myself until I make the journey across the hills on Saturday morning for Castello di Potentino- one of my most favourite places in the world.
Pictured: vines at the foot of the beautiful town of Assisi on my walk home tonight.