Valentine’s Day is here. Love is in the air. And American writer Karen Ross have a Chianti love story to share.
It was in 1999 when I was struck by Cupid. Yes, it was the year I married my husband, but I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about my first trip to Italy, where I fell in loved with a country and a way of life.
In May of that magical year we visited Italy for our honeymoon and rented an apartment in Chianti—in the heart of Tuscany—for one week. I thought I’d found heaven. Wait, I did find heaven!
|This rose is as much a part of the Tuscan farmhouse as its foundation|
We intentionally didn’t have a tight schedule because our plan was to explore. Each morning after a small pastry and caffé, we would look at our map to decide where to go and some of the destinations we found were San Gimignano, Greve in Chianti, Siena, Monteriggioni, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, the Cinque Terre, and of course, opulent Florence. We experienced golden sunsets, crumbling castles, wood-fired pizza, earthy wine, brilliant art, homemade pasta, and kind, hard-working people.
One of our most memorable days was a visit to a winery that was then open to the public called Castello di Uzzano. They still sell wine today, but the castle is now a private residence. (If we had only known it was for sale!)
Their wine was wonderful and when it was suggested that we purchase a picnic basket to have lunch on the grounds we thought, “Why not?” We ate lunch of fresh meats and cheeses, drank Chianti under majestic cypress trees, and explored the historic property discovering enchantment: large terra cotta urns aged with chips and cracks, eroded statues of gods and goddesses tucked in random places, an overgrown labyrinth, mossy stones and crumbling staircases to places otherwise inaccessible. Beautiful and timeless, it seemed built for eternity.
Romantic Italy etched itself into my soul so deeply that I’ve returned numerous times, parlo l’italiano un po’, and it inspired me to write a novel, an Italian love story called “Chianti Souls.” Had I written anything before this? Not really, except for some journals and fun children’s books for my stepdaughters. But Italy had touched the core of me and I had to share my love. At the time, I was working full-time in medical device marketing and traveling often. As I sat in airports and had quiet nights in hotels, I began to write. And write. And write. Words poured out like Chianti from a barrel.
|Wine aging in a cool cellar|
It took me a long time to finish writing the novel, but I persisted in sharing my passion, and here I’d like to share a novel snippet when the main character Mary Sarto describes her love of Italy. (Yes, it is true that we write about what we know.)
Scene: Mary Sarto a graphic designer from Philadelphia is sitting in a rustric trattoria in a Chianti village (amongst gossiping older ladies of the town) drinking Chianti and sharing dinner—ribollita and bistecca fiorentina—with a charming Italian friend named Luca Rusconi. She’s already fallen for Italy at this point, and is beginning to fall for him too. (Yes, she already has a boyfriend in the US, but this is what Italy does to people!) Luca asks her to tell him what she loves about Tuscany and she says: “The geography is a perfect palette. Everywhere I look, I feel like I’m seeing a painting, or like I’m in one. It’s so natural and there is harmony between the architecture and the land. The houses ramble and flow in sync with the geography.”
Luca replied. “Yes, you are right. And think about this, most homes were built hundreds of years ago when people didn’t travel, have televisions and magazines, or exposure to outside influences. They created these houses based on their instinct and sensibility; it is natural art.”
“I never thought of that.” She was intrigued with that concept.
“Homes had to be functional, yet they managed to be beautiful, too,” he added.
“So harmonious, and it’s obvious they were built with time and care, not erected hastily.”
Luca smiled. “What else do you love?”
She held up her glass of wine. “I love this. I love the orderly rows of vineyards, and I love strolling through them and thinking about how long grapes have been a part of man’s life.” Luca beamed at her and she continued. “When I watch the farmer prune the vines, I understand how much work it takes to produce a bottle of wine and I realize it’s a passion, a labor of love. People’s lives are attached to the land, and they work so hard.”
“Very hard. My brother and his wife can tell you about it.”
“I feel like I’ve stepped back in time in the vineyards. When I close my eyes, I hear ancient music and laughter. It’s magical.”
“It is, I agree. Dare I ask if there’s anything else you love?”
“Yes, the food. It’s so fresh and tasty, and such an important part of life. At the supermarket, I have seen couples heartily discussing what to prepare for dinner and selecting the ingredients together. I’ve never seen anything like that at home, and it amazes me; I love that the meals are long and never rushed; and I like the habit of late dinners.”
“You sound like you’ve found a new home,” he said with a wink. “Chianti is suiting you well.” He lifted his glass. “Salute!”
“Salute!” toasted Mary. “Do you mind if I continue?”
“I love that you keep things forever, and they are not so disposable. The furniture is made to last and it’s taken care of. Doors and shutters are solid wood and not hollow or synthetic. Flowers are in real terracotta pots, not plastic ones made to look like clay. And they are everywhere, filled with gorgeous flowers, trees, spices, and herbs.” She took another sip of wine. “I feel like I’m in a scene in a romance movie everywhere I go.”
|More castello gardens amidst Chianti hills|
Yes, I felt like I was in a romance movie everywhere I went, too, and now I sit at my desk with a calendar of Italy on the wall in front of me, dreaming of my next trip to the land I love. Until then, I will keep writing the sequel to my first novel and read other works on Italy, with a glass of Chianti in my hand. Salute to Italy and to love!
PS My husband and I are still together. I did not run off with a “Luca” of my own!
Thanks very much Karen for sharing this wonderful romance story in Italy! If you also love Italy why not try a cooking holiday in Tuscany or indulge in Flavours Pilates holidays
and you never know if it might be sharing a romance story with us!
Karen Ross lives in Sarasota, Florida with her husband and yellow dog Gus. She still works in medical device marketing, but part-time, and the rest her days are filled with writing a sequel, promoting “Chianti Souls”, exploring the Gulf coast of Florida, taking art classes, spending time with parents and her stepdaughters, and you guessed it, dreaming of Italy.
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