March 20 is the first day of Spring. It is also my birthday. We leave Maine’s four-foot snowdrifts knowing it’s full-on primavera in Italy. There’s nothing I like more than eating my birthday dinner on a plastic tray at 30,000 feet.
We have arrived. We exit the terminal and breathe spring air. Grass is a deep velvety green and the massive mowing of parks and medians has begun, the most fragrant of spring chores. Graceful clusters of wisteria, il glicine, adorn walls and terraces everywhere, from humble apartments to distinguished antiquities.
We aim for the sweet spot between high and low season. In April we enjoy artichokes, asparagus, and spring lamb. In October there are chestnuts, wild boar, and porcini. There is plenty of daylight, and seasonal art, design and fashion exhibitions are less crowded.
We shop for lunch in a quirky market where the merchandise is piled in colorful chaos – holiday panettone, Snoopy band-aids, tiny jars of pesto, and bright bunches of tulips. We score a sturdy hunk of pecorino cheese, a few bits of salumi, olives and fragrant tomatoes. Our resulting picnic is gritty and gorgeous, an essential rite of spring.
I enjoy a haircut at the tiny village parrucchiere in Carmignano. My hairdresser Cinzia says, “My brother is in love with America,” expressing her complaint in English. I answer in Italian (this is what we do here), “Tutti pazzi in America,” everything’s crazy in America. I add that Trump is a “pagliaccio,” a clown. Cinzia laughs. “No, è vero, è pericoloso!” I say, which exhausts my vocabulary of alarming words. The row of grannies under the dryers nod and cluck like sympathetic Tuscan hens.
We hike the sentiero del castagno, the chestnut path, to La Rocca, a semi-steep climb with bird’s eye views of Florence — no binoculars needed. A distinct aroma of weed drifts from a group of goth teens. Welcome to the modern world.
The surrounding hills are trimmed and neat. Olive trees have been clipped of leggy growth like silver-green poodles. The higher you climb the more organized the landscape. From a plane, it’s a tight grid of straight lines and dots, a linear patchwork in green and umber. From here on La Rocca, it’s unmistakably Tuscan — organized, yet untamed.
The image, above, is is the way my painterly friend and sometime traveling companion, artist Lindsay Hancock, sees Tuscany. She gets the way this place gets under your skin.
It’s time to scout new styles and replenish old favorites. Our pieces are at home against this backdrop – check out our Cashmere Wildflower shawl, whose poppies reflect the local landscape. No surprise – our wraps, ponchos and shawls are true Tuscan originals.
Milan is always a gas. We admire its fine urban bones, fashion sense, and graphic punch. We fight for street-space with bicycles, Vespas, upscale baby strollers, and the elderly who move at their own stately pace. The city chaos is bliss, and blessedly brief.
We emerge in the tiny hamlet of Chiaravalle where we check into the very arty Hotel Borgo Nuovo. Fashion-forward eyewear is cleverly displayed in glass vitrines. Design books cover every surface. We are the middle of nowhere, yet magically still in design-soaked Milan.
Rooms at the Borgo Nuovo are mod, comfortable and well-appointed. The staff is helpful in the cool, standoffish way that is so Milanese. We discover more wisteria over our expansive shared courtyard. We sit under the profusion of blooms, inhale, and check our messages. The hotel WiFi, pronounced “weefee,” is strong and best of all, gratis.
Hotel Borgo Nuovo’s proximity to the Abbey of Santa Maria di Rovegnano is an unexpected bonus. We spend a sunny afternoon wandering the sprawling 12th century campus, admiring the astonishing Gothic tower, frescoes, and woodcarvings. It is no surprise that contemporary Cistercian monks still wear white and work very, very hard.
As always, art makes us hungry. We head to Ristorante L’Osterietta in San Donato Milanese for a lengthy seafood lunch. The catch-of-the-day seems alive, eyeing us from their glass case. We turn away and tuck into our spaghetti vongole and frutti di mare.
We reluctantly leave Milan and head for lovely Como — our next working chapter and beloved home-away. We’ll soon be counting tiny lizards sunning on pale apricot walls, and inhaling the scent of graceful wisteria in our beloved lakeside retreat to the north.
In our next chapter, we will explore what makes a perfect “home away” for international business travelers like us — and it’s more than robust WiFi and a quiet room. •