His old friend Francesco always spoke of the beautiful Tuscan countryside, voicing how much he missed it, during the long days out at sea. Salvatore could never really appreciate Francesco’s sentiment for the beauty of Tuscany until he visited it himself, purposely to meet Francesco again, some years after their parting.
Francesco lived in a sprawling country house which had belonged to his parents and their parents before them, and further back in history for several decades. The house was surrounded by orchards of fruit trees managed by several local people from the region.
One of the culinary specialities which impressed Salvatore most was the traditional salami. When Salvatore asked where it came from, Francesco promised to show him. They boarded Francesco’s Jeep and trundled off to visit a farm in the vicinity. On the way there, Francesco described a typical hunt for the local wild boar, or ‘cinghiale’, a regular autumn event in Tuscany. He also described what Tuscan men wore for the hunt and the length of the drive allowed Francesco to delve into some detail, indicating his extremely refined dress sense. Salvatore was impressed with all the talk of tailored hunting jackets, merino wool roll neck cardigans and flat caps of the sort he had seen Italian gentry wear around their estates.
The ramshackle farm was owned by a colourful character who invited them inside a little hut where they were obliged to share some uncharacteristically English port, after which they were taken to see the pigs. It was the first time that Salvatore had seen the typical Tuscan boars. And this was a mighty one, closed in a pen – a bad tempered male whose female counterpart plus a litter of three piglets had just been sold away to a neighbouring farm.
As they spoke outside the pen, the men heard a rustle in the trees behind them, out of which, much to their surprise, trotted three little pigs. Salvo and Francesco were immensely amused to see these three piglets, grunting happily around their father’s pen to the evident joy of the farmer’s oversized Shepherd dog which had apparently grown fond the piglets and been party to several of their bravados. The little runaways had apparently and effectively escaped from the neighbour’s farm and from their mother, foraging through the woods for a distance of four miles, in order to return to the open farm.
The scene was accompanied by the roaring laughter of the farmer who was merrily jovial about it all and accepted Francesco’s offer to take the piglets back in the Jeep, this time escorted by all the three men. After some human huffing and puffing and extensive swine squealing and dog barking, some skirmishes in the mud and a few grazed knees, the three piglets were successfully captured, boarded in the rear, their three muddy captors huddled in the front and off they went. It had proven fortunate that Salvatore had followed his friend’s advice to wear rustic clothing, a warm and comfy shirt which allowed conveniently rolled up sleeves plus corduroy slacks firmly held in place by strong braces.
The neighbour who had acquired the pigs was immensely surprised to see the retinue arrive with the piglets in tow, which he had thought were safely enclosed with the sow. After reuniting the family, the farmer invited them all indoors and they spent the rest of the evening eating more salami, cheese and home-made bread, all diligently downed with plenty of house wine.
Salvatore’s time in Tuscany included driving around the endless rolling hills and visiting other farm owners on this enchanting landscape. They tasted some of the finest olive oil of the region as well as sampled some of the local wine, all made with dedication and respect of an ancient tradition. Francesco took time off to accompany him to view all the main sites in Siena, Arezzo and Florence. On the way to Pisa, Francesco’s car broke down and they had to stop for a couple of days in a little ‘locanda‘ in Cascina. Due to the fact that the region was experiencing an industrial strike that had blocked all public means of transport, including trains, they were unable to proceed to Pisa and had to wait for the car to be repaired.
Salvatore was afraid he would not manage to see Pisa after all, since he was due to travel back home in a couple of days. He convinced Francesco that Pisa must stay on the itinerary, even if it meant just seen the leaning Tower from a distance. And so, as soon as the car was fixed, they raced the few remaining kilometres to Pisa. Fate seemed to be intervening somewhat against Salvatore’s intention of seeing the tower since on their arrival in the city, they found some streets blocked due to a procession.
On an impulse, Salvatore convinced Francesco to park the car in the middle of an alley and wait for him. The leaning Tower was only a few streets away and Salvatore ran all the way, dodging passers-by and street sellers, until he reached Piazza dei Miracoli. Breathless but satisfied at the much anticipated sight, he asked a passer-by to take a picture of him with the tower in the background. Racing back to the car, elated at having managed to see the centuries-old Tower, Salvatore knew that one day he would be back again to see it up close.