On the fifth day of our 2013 Italian adventure, we drove five hours from the quaint town of Alba in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy to the renaissance era Tuscan town, Gaiole in Chianti, deep in the heart of Tuscan wine country. The route was mostly along the Autostrade (Italian highways) so the driving was easy in our rented blue Peugeot, even though I had been warned by many about driving in Italy. The only real challenge came as we approached picturesque Gaiole. Both our GPS and Google Maps kept routing us along dirt roads across the Tuscan hillsides in a 10 mile loop, never being able to locate our B&B.
After being thoroughly frustrated by our hi-tech directional technology and still lost, it was time for wine. A small group of cars were parked along a dusty road near the entrance to what turned out to be the tiny castle town of Vertine where a sign stated “Wine Bar.” We took a seat on the stone patio as the sun slowly slid lower across the Tuscan skyline. The rich Chianti Classico from a nearby winery massaged our frayed nerves and the charcuterie board with local cheeses and prosciutto from a nearby butcher filled our bellies, together they soothed our souls. After five days we were finally slowing down to rural Italian speed.
Though our waitress spoke as little English as we did Italian, she was very helpful. Sending us down the hill on yet another dusty dirt road through manicured Sangiovese vineyards, her directions landed our now dirt covered Peugeot at the front door of our B&B. As it turned out, the B&B was only a quarter mile from the main road in Gaiole where we had been over an hour earlier.
The next morning I woke early and took the camera out for some Tuscan photo opportunities, before we climbed back in the dusty Peugeot for a day of touring the nearby Tuscan hill towns of Greve and Panzano, among others. The GPS continued to find dirt roads whenever possible but soon we were on pavement headed through the Tuscan hills toward Greve.
With car windows down on a cool morning, we were determined to take in all the sights, flavors and aromas Chianti had to offer. We descended into a valley along a fairly narrow and winding road where I began to hear what sounded like the faint roar of Harley Davidsons.
As we progressed through the wooded winding turns the roar became louder and louder. I fully expected to make a turn only to see a large group of touring motorcycles, but no. The first one was yellow and shot around the corner half in my lane and at twice my speed. Behind it was a red one, fully in my lane, and going even faster. The roars dwarfed that of a Harley. It was then I learned, we were driving counter to a Lamborghini road rally. It was at that moment I understood why I had been so frequently warned about Italian drivers. Things like white lines in the road and stop signs are mere suggestions to the Italian motorist, especially those in very fast, very expensive and very beautiful sports cars.
I gripped the Peugeot steering wheel tightly and drove with laser concentration for the next hour as we passed and avoided over a hundred sexy but noisy Lamborghinis who thought the two lane road was all theirs. So much for a leisurely morning drive through the Tuscan hillside.
Ultimately we were rewarded in Greve, a town that dates back to pre-Roman times. The cobbled streets are lined with stone buildings boasting colorful flower boxes hanging from second story windows. The main piazza (town square) is ringed with statues, restaurants and shops. In the middle sits Antica Macelleria Falorni, a Tuscan butcher shop that has been in the same location since 1729. The aromas of cheese, charcuterie and Prosciutto were heavenly.
After a bit of shopping, we settled into a slow lunch and a glass of Chianti Classico. Greve is considered the capital of the Chianti Classico region so wine selections are outstanding and well priced. The pace was slow and we once again were operating on Italian time even though I still heard Lamborghini roars in the back of my mind. During our much more leisurely and far less harrowing drive back towards Gaiole, we visited a few other towns and stopped into wineries along the way. There we met such genuine personalities and drank beautiful wines. Though we struggled past the language barrier at times, everyone who loves wine ultimately speaks a common language.
As we neared Gaiole, we passed the little wine bar from the evening before. Turning the Peugeot (who was just getting over his Lamborghini inferiority complex) around at the first opportunity, we settled into our new favorite spot. Sitting near the ancient castle walls of Vertine once again, Chianti Classico in hand, with the Tuscan sun slowly slipping away, that silly song popped played in my head.
It was a song from 1980 by the one-hit-wonder British pop band The Vapors. A song I never really liked and frankly never gave another thought after the last time it played on my car radio, probably 30 years ago. The song was I’m turning Japanese which, according to the song’s writers, is about embracing profound change in one’s life (the singer is distraught over losing his girlfriend) and has no sexual connotation as was rumored when Turning Japanese was a hit.
Since Japanese and Italiano are both three syllable words, it was very easy in my twisted mind to change the chorus from I’m turning Japanese to I’m turning Italiano. Plus the T-sound alliteration, I thought, sounded better than the original lyrics. My new version, I’m Turning Italiano was firmly stuck in my head. And now that I’ve been back in the States for over a month, not a day goes past that I don’t imagine hearing a refrain of my private hit, I’m turning Italiano.
It is getting late on this summer Saturday and the sun is sliding lower in the Colorado sky though it has already set on the Tuscan hills. Shortly, I will leave my desk to prepare charcuterie and cheese on the cutting board we brought back from Antica Macelleria Falorni, open a bottle of Chianti Classico and daydream of future days in Tuscany.