A newly-married couple from Los Angeles quit their jobs to work on farms and wineries across Europe. Read it from the beginning...

Under The Cortona Sun

Posted: August 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Italy, Unexpected Adventure | 6 Comments »

Cortona is what I feel many of the cities we’ve visited wish they were. Small, but not too small. Personal, charming, and warm. Old secrets rest in the shaded, narrow canyons of cobbled roads, criss-crossing the town like crooked fingers. True, there are tourists (we’re there, right?) but this is not Venice, or Saint Malo. People still live here and it shows. Laundry hangs from lines overhead like flags for a tiny festival. City squares hold tight circles of laughing old men. Children run solo around corners and into darkened doorways.

Halbe and I are staying in Umbria, so we drove a windy road through a mountain pass to approach the city from behind, at its summit. We walked through an arched entry in the high, defensive stone wall then continued along its ridge. Cortona is built on the side of a hill and this wall surrounds and holds up the city. It emphasizes the height Cortona holds over the long valley and low hills below. Tiny, angular farms fill out this valley like shattered chunks of glass swept into colorful piles. This is Tuscany. It continues until atmosphere sucks away the color, then shape, and the blue silhouette of a distant mountain cuts a gentle line along the bottom of the sky.

We cut into the city, not following any particular route. Tourist families passed in three’s and fours’s, huffing up the hills at a chain-gang’s plodding pace. Couples like us wandered, heads titled up to the crack of sky above.

We found gelato for one euro forty. A steal at twice the price. We sat on the stairs in Piazza della Republica and watched the flow of people from the streets terminating here. A traffic cop with supermodel legs and Gucci sunglasses talked with a cab driver blocking an entrance. She squeezed her hand into a purse and waved it in the cabbie’s face, like they were negotiating a price. A massive clock hung behind us, ticking off the time. At the hour, we heard the clanging bells of Cortona’s cathedral, and the airy bells of the church in the valley far below.

The late-day golden light slipped from the building tops and we knew the sun had set. We ate at a small pizzeria (our second in Italy — the first is a coming post). Hungry tourists in line for the place peered in the street level window to watch us eat.

As we left, I felt for a moment like I was on a film set. It’s the Disneyland effect. I grew up with close to home, traditional, suburban experiences, so the jungles of Costa Rica reminds me of Disneyland’s Jungle Ride, and not the other way around.

I took a photo. That could be a recently lit backlot at Paramount. I had to remind myself I’m in Cortona, in Tuscany, in Italy, on the other side of the world. Halbe and I walked hand in hand down these streets, then drove the windy road home.

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6 Comments on “Under The Cortona Sun”

  1. 1 Charlie and Mary Lou said at 3:01 pm on August 7th, 2010:

    Seems like you found a piece of the Old World! Sounds like a great day and we got great enjoyment from the post!

  2. 2 Mom/Mindy said at 4:45 pm on August 7th, 2010:

    What beautiful language to describe a magical experience. You can tell you’re a writer…and a pretty decent photographer, too! Sounds like you’re enjoying Italy very much.

  3. 3 Devon said at 2:15 pm on August 8th, 2010:

    Thanks, guys! It was a magical place.

  4. 4 Sarah said at 7:18 am on August 10th, 2010:

    so beautiful. i love the way you described it and also laughed at the fact that my first instinct when i saw a few of those pictures was “oh my gosh! it’s like under the tuscan sun!” enough said.

  5. 5 Katie Sutton said at 1:54 pm on August 10th, 2010:

    Mmmmmm Gelato!!!!

  6. 6 michael said at 5:40 am on August 22nd, 2010:

    great writing, your styles are flowering under the strong summer sun. you found the prettiest view of val di chiana, and captured its essence on camera perfectly.

    so nice to see your intense appreciation of the things that matter in life, keep travel/food blogging!

    your comment about the film set made me laugh. it reminded me of how if i get my head too far up digital media, i go out and the birds all sound like cell ringtones.

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