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Farewell to Italy
By The Lady Upstairs (AKA Carol Pearlman), West Hollywood, California
Yesterday morning, Guido took me for a drive to see what he called the “Grand Canyon of Tuscany,” in a place called Balse, halfway between Montevarchi and Firenze. Extraordinary formations from rivers that disappeared millions of years ago.
Afterwards, he was eager to get home to begin preparations for the meal that night. He and Paola had invited me, Adriana, and Tina, who live on the first floor, for dinner in their beautiful apartment on the top floor of the house. (I am downstairs, in the garden.) This would be a farewell-to-me event, and I brought the best bottle of Chianti I could find in the Gastronomia Chef.
Paula and Guido serving beef for dinner. Photo by Carol Pearlman.
At the appointed hour, I climbed the stairs, and found Guido in his undershirt, battling a smoky wood fire in the open hearth of his kitchen. Paola gave me art books to look at while she set the table. Adriana and Tina arrived; we sat down at 8:30.
The feast began with a platter piled high with chicken liver paste crostini, sliced salami and prosciutto, then a platter of luscious green olives and ripe red baby tomatoes.
Then, of course, the pasta, ravioli stuffed with fresh cheese and herbs, sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan, and then the main event, huge grilled steaks, thick rib eyes, with another platter of fresh raw celery and fennel.
Guido poured some olive oil on my steak to be sure I enjoyed it the right way.
We ate slowly, enjoying the flavor of smoky grilled meat, and the crisp vegetables we dipped in good olive oil. After we'd eaten our fill, Guido produced a beautiful bowl of fresh strawberries that had been soaked in a little sugar, not too much.
We drank well: the wine was superb, and another great bottle of red appeared before we were done. Guido opened a bottle of champagne when the strawberries came out.
Guido at Balze. Photo by Carol Pearlman.
Paola served the cake, brought by Tina, which we ate after the berries, and it was probably, without exaggerating, the best cake I ever tasted. She said it came from a Sicilian bakery in Montevarchi, and this just tells me I’ve got to go to Sicily.
We ate and drank with pleasure, toasting each other, to new friendships and good health. It was wonderful to sit down with people who love food and enjoy eating, unlike some of the meals I've had with friends back home, where this one doesn't eat this, and that one won't eat that...
So much finicky, fussy, picky eating in the land of plenty, so little joy in what is meant to be a happy way to be together, and celebrate friendship.
After dinner, Guido led us into another room where he showed the pictures he’d taken that morning, at Balsa, with me looking 9 months pregnant. After six weeks of eating in Italy, what else? I begged him to please fix them up with Photoshop.
Balze. Photo by Carol Pearlman.
To say farewell, Adriana translated my Casa Il Pino guest-book message, in which I expressed appreciation for all of Paola's and Guido’s kindnesses during my one-month stay in their beautiful home in Montevarchi.
Paola told me that Francesco had also communicated to her my appreciation for the special price they gave me, which I promised to keep secret, and everyone was happy.
Kisses on both cheeks for everyone. Ciao, ciao...
In the end, Guido insisted on accompanying me home – down the stairs, and ten steps across the gravel, to my front door -- then returned a few minutes later to deliver my camera, which I’d left on the dining room table.
They're setting up stands now and decorating the via Roma, the main street of town. There will be a big festival tonight, with music and food, and everyone will be there. I don't know what it's about but you can be sure I'll be dancing in the street on my last night in Montevarchi.