A Pheasant Day for a Walk

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Yesterday morning we set off again from Coiano—after sleep much disturbed by a soccer match apparently so thrilling that it had to be followed by a block party with pounding music at high volume till the wee hours of the morning—this time in the company of our friends Paul and Melissa. Happily the scenery was the best we’ve had all week, mainly off highways and up on the ridge of the Tuscan hills. It was foggy so the views were not as impressive as they probably would have been, but the great variety of greens still showed through as we passed under Italian cypresses and through ever-more-ripe olive groves.

At one point we were walking through a vineyard and startled a pair of ringneck pheasants and their young, but they didn’t fly off, so we walked alongside them for quite awhile, enjoying a close-up look at these beautiful birds. A little later we met some local humans hard at work pressing grapes for wine, leaving behind huge round cakes of grapeskins. Yet another spot showed us a little flock of sheep guarded by two dogs that resembled miniature polar bears in color, shape, and gait; they were also by far the friendliest dogs we’ve met in Italy—they snuck out under the fence and walked along with us for at least a mile. In between these episodes we hikers enjoyed catching up; it had been a long time since we’d all seen each other.

About 4 p.m. I happened to remark how lucky we were not to have had any rain all day, since it had been forecast and I’d forgotten our umbrellas. Exactly three minutes later the downpour began. This is the sort of thing that would make me superstitious except that, thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure I said it after glancing up at the sky and noticing the horribly threatening gray clouds. I suppose my weather senses have sharpened after so many days spent mostly outside (and in a lot of rain). Paul and Melissa were kind enough to lend us one of their two umbrellas, so we marched along as couples arm in arm, huddled under our respective umbrellas, along the last few kilometers of highway until we came into San Gimignano.

San Gimignano is one of those remarkable hilltop towns made entirely of stone, with no lawns or trees or any other soft material. It has 16 or so towers now, but it used to have 72 until its Florentine rivals to the north came along and put the locals in their place. Now it is thronged with late-season tourists and the shops that cater to them. Paul and Melissa had decided that by this point we would all be in need of a break, so they hosted us at a beautiful bed-and-breakfast just outside the town with the most amazing view we’ve had, a proper kitchen, and beds for us all—which means a whole two nights off from the camper! The pheasants rejoiced.

Today was our first Sunday rest day in a long time so we actually made it to church at San Agostino (fitting, though it doesn’t seem to be a church attached to the Augustinian order, and in any event Luther most likely didn’t come this way—we’ll rejoin his route in two days when we get to Siena). Every so often the linguistic fog cleared and I comprehended a few words of Italian, the combined benefit of similarity to Spanish and the limited ritual vocabulary of the liturgy. After a leisurely walk back through town—this time in sunshine—we plopped ourselves down in our guest rooms and did a whole lot of sitting.

Andrew was very excited at the prospect of grilling for dinner (Europeans on the whole don’t grill with the same passion or frequency that Americans do) but, as we probably should have expected, it was exactly when he lit the grill that the downpours came back. Dinner got cooked, though by the time it was all over Andrew, who’d had to hide himself and the grill under a pair of umbrellas, smelled like an excellent cut of beef (in Paul’s apt words). Given the way we’ve smelled over the course of the past 57 days, that was a pretty nice compliment.

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