A Celebration in Tuscany Harvey and Janeâ€™s Italian adventure 2013
Another Journale? No, more of a Book this time. Gastronomy still included
Why Tuscany? – Why Andre Bocelli’s concert? An explanation might help to answer these questions Early last year whilst looking for something to watch amongst the glut of game shows, talent shows and celebrity crap shows we had stumbled on a TV broadcast of a concert held it seemed in a hole in the ground in Tuscany. Anyway this is how it was described in the introduction. This turned out to be the recording of Andrea Bocelli’s concert in 2011. We learned that in early 2000 Andrea had proposed that a natural amphitheatre should be developed where people could visit and find peace and tranquillity 364 days of the year. One day each year would be a concert featuring himself and invited international stars of music and drama. This would be the only ‘sound’ in the place during each year. He promised finance and to perform once a year himself for 10 years. He persuaded the local government to participate in this venture – thus Il Teatro del Silenzio was born. Whilst absorbed in this program and listening to the life of the maestro himself and his philosophy of life and commitment to the world of need we simultaneously turned to each other and pledged to go there to celebrate our 50th. Anniversary. I can assure you, loyal and patient Journalies, that it happened just like that. There followed concern over whether there would be a concert this year. We enlisted the help of our good friend Paul who has organised all out Italian opera jaunts. We asked him to keep an eye on the Italian organisers and he informed us in January this year that there was indeed a concert planned for 2013.
Tickets are initially in the form of a Lottery and we were entered! In February we learned that we had been successful! We could plan ahead – the Tuscany adventure was born. There was just one other thing to try to arrange… Some of you may know that the Norton’s seem to do something out of the mainstream at significant anniversary times. For example in 2003, our 40th. we were travelling around the perimeter of the USA and Canada by train as our celebration. Unbeknown to J, H had arranged for a ‘Renewal ‘of our wedding vows and The Little White Chapel whilst we were visiting Las Vegas. In planning for 2013 H had thought of another ‘Renewal’ in Cornwall in the famous Arch of Tintagel. This was firmly rejected by J as impossible as there were 241 stone steps up to the Arch and J was due for another hip operation early in the year. Also she was none to keen to involve all the family who live in Cornwall. So the option was open to do something special whilst on this trip to Tuscany – more on this later. Monday 1st July – The adventure begins We left home at about 3 pm and took the M25, that wonderful fast free flowing route to the rest of the world. We got to Gatwick at about 5pm. not bad for that time of day. We ate in the Premier Inn, not great, not memorable, but adequate and in true ‘Journale’ tradition here is what we ate and drank! We drank bottle of Sicilian Rose with various breads – Jane ordered a Chicken Caesar salad and H. had Tempura Prawns with a sweet chilli dip and a Prawn Cocktail.
We had a ground floor room which well air-conditioned and went to bed early as we were to be up, car parked and in the airport by 5.45!! Tuesday 2nd July â€“ Off to Verona Next morning we awoke to the alarm, and were ready to drop off the car in the car park by 5.15am. We were booked in, and through security by 5.40 no problems at all and we were even congratulated by security over the way we had packed our medicines and toiletries which are inspected quite intensely. My tube of Voltarol gel was removed and tested in some weird machine but soon returned to me and we went to the lounge to await our flight. We had the first of our two breakfasts there! In the lounge there was a free breakfast buffet laid out with everything from cooked eggs to tropical fruits and lovely warm brioches and breads with real ground coffee. Brioches and coffee for me with some bran flakes. Cereal and fruit for J. The peace of this sound proofed lounge was a little disturbed by a pregnant woman trying to look after four children from 6 to bottle fed with a husband who walked in and out of the lounge with his mobile glued to his ear and did not once talk to his wife or the children. The 6 year old girl went to the buffet about six or seven times returning each time with something different in each hand which eventually ended up on the floor with one bite out of it. A fascinating scenario at 6 in the morning! The flight was uneventful, leaving at ?? and taking only 80 minutes flying time. even though a bit cattle class we enjoyed our second breakfast of cake and coffee. We took a taxi from the airport and we were in Verona and in the hotel by 11.40 - not bad for oldie unseasoned travellers!
We were in a Hotel we have stayed in before which is in a narrow street 50 metres from the famous roman Arena. We had a lovely room with good air-conditioning and large bathroom. We explored, already known territory, bringing back many happy memories from when we came with sister Bridget three years ago.We walked around the perimeter of the arena watching the scenery for tonightâ€™s opera, Il Trovatore being hoisted into the arena by a huge crane a hundred feet in the air. Last nightâ€™s scenery from Aida lay strewn around the side street outside the arena.
Then as the hottest part of the day took hold, we meandered back to the hotel, where we consumed 2 glasses of cold Italian white wine each with some nibbly bits - and then had a well deserved siesta in our cool room! That evening we had nothing planned and so we went to a favourite restaurant just 20 yards from the hotel and had a table outside in the street. We enjoyed a really wonderful gourmet meal. The plates at this Trattoria are highly decorated â€“ pictures can describe them better than words. Not only was the meal good, but every so often the patron's son turned down the lights and mimed, so we thought, to some famous tenor arias even some with a full chorus singing. After dinner I went inside and kidded him about his â€˜performanceâ€™ and as we said we would be back tomorrow we looked forward to some more singing. He smiled and promised us more of the same. Altogether very memorable. Jane ate bream, which was on the bone and delicious, and H. had lobster tails in a wine sauce with a Tuscan ham roulade. We each had a dessert, Jane a strawberry panecotta, and Harvey a 3 choc fondant. we retired to bed exhausted!
The readers who are still awake will notice that all fish is served on white plates whilst all other dishes are served on these highly decorative unique platters.
Wednesday 3rd. July â€“ A day in Verona and the Opera We didn't hurry to get up, but we were down to breakfast in good time! We had our usual one, cereal, fruit, and brioche, washed down with hot coffee. We decided to go and get the tickets for the opera, Il Trovatore, which we knew should be at the ticket office. We wandered round, it is very near the hotel, past all the shops with half price sales!! We encountered a clerk, and asked for the tickets, showing her the paper from the travel agent!! Calamity struck, they denied all knowledge, and said we must go to Gate 16 at 5.30. So rather disheartened, we made our way to one of the trattorias for a coffee. Certain our tickets would be there, we decided to have a ride on one of the buses which are hop on, hop off, and are fairly frequent! We walked to the bus stop, sat on a seat, and watched the world go by! Since we were last here, the buses are less frequent, whether because there are now 2 routes, or lack of custom we don't know. Finally we got on the bus, but couldn't go upstairs as it was full, so sat downstairs, getting hotter and hotter! We recog-
nised the area, and so we got off after a while, and walked to a Tratorria where we had eaten before. This was a good decision, the food and wine is inexpensive, and good, and the service excellent! Harvey had large scampi about 6” long in a light batter with linguini and J had a real traditional Mozzerella and Tomato salad with incredible fresh local Italian vegetables and herbs washed down with a 2009 Soave from the region. Having sated our appetites, we made our way back to our hotel for a siesta. After a good rest in the cool we wandered round some back streets we remembered arriving at an open street market we had been to on one of our visits previously the temperature was now about 35 degrees. We bought hats to shelter from the sun Jane a very fetching paper hat see picture) useful too for emergencies! H’s was a more traditional panama. We stopped for a little refreshment – coffees this time!! Then we set off to arrive promptly at 5.30 at the Arena at Gate 16 to collect our tickets as instructed. Again, we were faced with blank faces, and we became more and more alarmed! A very nice Italian lady at Ticket booth took pity on us, and she spoke more English than most, and spent a long time trying to help us. However to no avail, and eventually she sent us back to the ticket office saying this often happened and that she was sure our tickets would be there as they have been in the past. So with renewed optimism mixed with some niggling worries that perhaps we should have rung the travel agents earlier in the day when they would have been open we reurned to the official Box Office.. Of course it was Sod's law that we encountered the same clerk we had originally seen. After much conversation, getting hotter and hotter, we gave up and managed to buy
two more tickets for the evening’s performance! By now it was almost 6.30, and we had a table booked for 7pm for dinner. We went back to our room, to cool off, wash and relax. Then at 7, we made our way to the restaurant next door, which together with a bottle of chilled white wine, and fantastic food, calmed us down to a chilled state. Our menu tonight consisted of a hand picked mushroom and truffle risotto for H and J had a superb vegetarian pasta dish accompanied by the best tomato salad we have ever eaten – all local vegetables in a magic dressing. Half way through the meal, the maitre d', who is the owner's son, again dimmed the lights, this time we were sitting inside the restaurant, put on a backing track with the introduction to “La Donna e Mobile” and this time we could see that he was NOT mining he was singing beautifully to a back track. As he was finishing, an older man about 60 walked in from the street where he had been standing and walked up to greet the singing Maitre’d. After a short discussion they both moved to the back of the restaurant and we could hear the introduction to one of the famous 3 tenor arrangements – O Sole Mio. The two of them gave a rousing impromptu live rendition to huge applause. Then the older man waved to us all and walked out back into the street. Needless to say H’s mouth was hanging open! Wine was needed urgently. As the Maitre’d came by he smiled and looked at us as if to say “Well now you know…!!! After congratulating him I asked him who the other man was. He said he did not know - he had never seen him before but it seemed that he was an opera singer in the past but now a singing teacher who had two pupils of his singing in the arena in the opera tonight!! He was just walking by and heard the
singing coming from the restaurant. This sort of thing can only happen in Italy!!
We finished our meal now it was time to go 20 yards to the Arena. We then made our way up the stone steps, sitting in our seats by 9pm. We had a very good view, but my goodness the seats were hard, and sloped forward! The stone steps are definitely more comfortable than those. The opera, Il Trovatore was wonderful, and as darkness fell, and it became cooler, we really enjoyed it, being sorry when it ended.
Inside - waiting for darkness
On the way to the Hotel H stopped at the restaurant and asked the young tenor Maitre'd if he knew the duet from Bizet’s Pearl fishers – he knew of it of course but had never sung it – so it was H promised to send the backtracks and music to him (orchestra + baritone only for practice!!) and to return next year to sing the Duet in the restaurant. We shook hands on this promise and pledge! We had made a new friend. Always good to make a friend of a restaurant owner!! Then home to bed via a glass of local wine in the hotel foyer bar, with the music ringing in our ears. Thursday 4th. July - Travelling to Tuscany. We awoke to the sun getting through the cracks in the curtains, and while Harvey showered, I packed. We had our usual good breakfast, and then made our way with the help of a taxi to the station. I had understood from the travel agent that we had to exchange our travel vouchers for "tickets" at the station and to do this we should be early. We were, only to find after queuing for a while that they didn’t need exchanging, they were the tickets. We found our platform and watched a train come in, the one before ours, and noted we
were at the correct coach stop - that is the stop for coach 9. We people watched, always entertaining, and then our train came in, but at coach stop 9 there stood coach no.1! Anyway we got on, as we were too old, too hot and weighed down with our luggage to run to find coach 9. We walked through to coach 2, 1 and 2 being first class, only to find the door between coach 2 and 3 was broken and locked shut, so we travelled 1st class all the way to Padua. There we got off, and found our connection to Florence, but this time we found our correct carriage, and seats! I thoroughly enjoyed the journeys, seeing the country, until we were getting near to Florence, when we went through a series of tunnels, which seemed to go on for ever! H does not like tunnels especially unpredictable Italian ones. We alighted at Florence and then had to buy tickets for the local line to Pontaderra the nearest station to Lajatico where our B & B was hopefully located. We found a queue which looked to be half a mile long, probably a slight exaggeration, for the ticket office. There were two windows open for business with 200+ waiting! We asked someone in the queue where they were going and they said Rome when we said where we were going the fellow said you don’t buy you local train tickets here you buy them over there – pointing at a newsagent’s kiosk! No queue here We did this a quickly found our train waiting and about to leave so we hopped on! This was a grave mistake! By now it was approx 2 pm, and although lunch time we weren’t hungry as it was very hot. We sat opposite a dark looking man, who didn’t seem too pleased to see us. He was obviously a Sicilian and even on a bright sunny day we would not have opted to be alone with him – he looked as if he was straight out of the cast of the
Godfather! But he did open one eye at us and mumbled at us in a very guarded way with in a strange mixture of Italian and English. We happily sat back and enjoyed the scenery. After about 20 minutes, looking at a map on the carriage wall we decided we were going to get off after 10 stops, only to be corrected by this man, who said, 6 stops!! He then asked us if we were Americans. I was unsure how to answer this, but replied, English, and the answer seemed to be the right one, as he then warmed to us a little! But then dear Journalies the ticket inspector then arrived, his name was Jobsworth. After handing him our tickets, he pointed to the wall and we realised he wanted 40 euros each from us!! The tickets had cost just 7euros. Our Sicilian friend then made us understand we hadn’t validated the tickets, a real sin it seemed and another strange Italian custom!! Our Sicilian ‘friend’ then remonstrated calmly at first with the ticket collector, to little avail – then he had another try obviously with a few dire threats added with appropriate hand gestures which made the ticket inspector go a pale shade of white and disappear! Only to return very shakily and pointing again at the wall. While Harvey pointed out that we hadn’t seen a point to validate the tickets, and that on the back of the ticket it stated that he the ticket inspector could do it! He disappeared faster this as our new ‘friend’ made some very obscene gestures along with some quiet guttural noises. He eventually hesitatingly returned and stood a little further away from the Sicilian. I expected to see damp patches down his front. He hesitated and held up five shaky fingers which we interpreted as 5 euros which we paid and Italian and Sicilian honour seemed to prevail. Signor Jobsworth then wrote an essay on each ticket!!
We settled back, and we talked as best we could to our new friend, who had been to York. Eventually we reached Pontaderra and said our farewells. and thanks. On arriving outside Pontaderra station, we discovered the only way to our B and B was by taxi, and 3 taxi drivers were waiting there. We took a taxi, and were driven through some wonderful country to La Mandriola where we were staying for the next 4 nights. It was beautiful, but so hard to make anyone understand we had arrived as there seemed to be no one there.. Finally the taxi driver made contact with a lady whose name we learned was Daniella, and who was so charming, helpful and friendly, despite having very little English!! She took us up to our room, which turned out to be an apartment, with a large kitchen, bedroom, and well appointed bathroom. Not quite what we had expected from Web-site description. When Daniella turned on our empty fridge it dawned very quickly that we were self-catering four miles from any stores or village and no transport. Who cares we thought this is Italy! Something will turn up “sometime - “probably” - “no problem” - “wait a second” - “of course” – “prego” – “yes” – all of which in rural Italy we quickly learned to understand mean “nothing will happen”!!!!!! Well here we were in self catering ‘heaven’ – but no food!! The weather was hot and sunny the views indescribably beautiful, only the house martins breaking the silence and pure peace. Giancarlo, our host at La Mandriola, arrived later and we got together and introduced ourselves. Giancarlo spoke no English so the discussions were quite lengthy with neither of us any the wiser about anything! But he was a really lovely man and repeated “nessun problema”
many times which sounded so reassuring and good but, as we soon learned, was well meaning but meant absolutely nothing at all! Thank God for Daniella who promised to bring us a Tuscan supper up to our apartment which was on the first floor along with a bottle of the wine produced by Giancarlo at La Mandriola. She also produced a wonderful electric fan as the temperature even late afternoon was in the mid 30’s. Daniella also arranged what we thought was a taxi for us, to take us to the nearest supermarket as the empty fridge was niggling us!. We thought she said it would be in five minutes, however the five minutes turned into ten, then fifteen, but eventually a car turned up, looking less like a taxi than a farm vehicle!! We discovered the driver to be one of the workers on the estate, and he was a charmer!! He had very little English, but he was one of those rare people, who will always go the last mile for you and always smiling. He never once uttered “nessun problema” and we immediately bonded with him. He took us quite a long way, and definitely not to Lajatico, which has a very small emporium, but to a well stocked supermarket, called La Rosa. As we drew up Pietro our new friend produced a 5 euro coin we needed for the trolley, we wondered why he was producing his purse, but he was obviously going to ‘mother’ us! J imagined his wife had got him well trained! Here we stocked up on tomatoes, cold meats, bread butter, melons, biscuits, tea bags, milk, coffee, and all the things we felt we might need to keep eating!! He then took us to the “hole in the wall” so that we could stock up on euros, as by then we realized that we were going to need cash rather than credit cards. We arrived back at the apartment, feeling content, and indeed Daniella did arrive promptly at 7
pm with a tray on which was a feast of cold food, Italian meats, tomatoes, grilled aubergines, fresh bread, and some fruit â€“ a real Tuscan supper. We had a chilled a bottle of La Mandriola wine, and so we ate well that night. At La Mandriola
Friday 5th. July – Tuscany – The Rehearsal Day It was a very hot night, but we had been loaned a large fan, and so we both slept well, and woke refreshed. H was sure we would be bitten by mosquitoes, but were pleasantly surprised to find we had not been bitten at all, and as we kept the windows shut it would have been difficult for them to get at us! We had been told breakfast would be served between the hours of 8 to 10.30, and so we made our way downstairs to the large dining room at 9. We were chatting to each other, when we heard a voice saying “Good Morning, you must be English too”!! We went to the table at which sat a very tall lady, beautifully made up, and looking very polished. It turned out she and her friend Margaret, came here every year to the Bocelli concert, and we soon discovered they were both secretly in love with Andrea Bocelli!! We soon realized that they were what the next generation would call “groupies”!! Margaret, Dee’s friend, apparently was still asleep, but Dee did impart snippets of information, and so we learnt a little
more about our host, Giancarlo and about the concert itself. It was good feel we were part of everything. Breakfast was delicious, there were hard boiled eggs, some fresh breads, jam, honey, butter, Tuscan ham, pastries and cake!! We didn’t eat all our eggs, and these were quickly snaffled by Dee, to have for their lunch!! Both Dee and Margaret had been BAA staff, and had begun their training together, and had been friends ever since. They were both competent, good looking, (both 70 plus), but I really liked Margaret, when we she eventually appeared for breakfast. Margaret had been bitten by something and was proudly showing off her bites to her chest and thighs!! The tickets for the Rehearsal had been booked by H back in England as they were not available to travel agents for some reason (Italian logic again!) Also they were only available from a stall in Lajatico from a 4pm. H had visions of thousands of people queuing and was very edgy. Dee and Harvey arranged to meet that afternoon, to get our tickets for both the rehearsal and the concert. As we already had a good rapport with Pietro, Harvey suggested that we asked Giancarlo if Pietro could provide the transport for this. And this was just what happened – we learned to ask for the lift and hour before we needed. Good Italian thinking. We passed the morning very happily exploring La Mandriola which was the most wonderful of places right in the middle of Tuscan fields. There was not another house or farm in sight. We learnt to keep away from the olive trees in the midday heat , as there seemed to be a plague of small black flies, which didn’t bite, but which invaded one’s hair, and even ears! Hats were a must!
After lunch from our fridge, and the necessary bottle of wine purchased from Daniella, J. had a siesta whilst Harvey departed with Dee to collect the tickets. We hoped to collect the rehearsal tickets and the Saturday concert tickets together today. Dee was convinced we would have to go back tomorrow for these but we had gathered that she often look on the negative side – part of her heritage I suppose. (we won’t say where she hailed from!) H had been struggling to get a wi-fi signal here although we were told there was a router somewhere. J was not bothered at all as she was happily texting the world and getting replies but H was getting very frustrated – why will be revealed later. Dee and H went to Lajatico which is Andrea Bocelli’s birthplace. To pick up the tickets. We arrived to find a small queue at the Kiosk which was not yet open even though it was past 4pm. Dee wanted to go to Alberto Bocelli’s Cantina (Andrea’s brother sells wine. Olive oils and other Bocelli products). Alberto was there and Dee bought some wine glasses and I bought a beautiful terracotta wine cooler which Alberto’s wife told me was designed by a friend of hers in the village. Alberto speaks good English and I asked him if he was going to the rehearsal tonight and he said he would be there both nights as this was the only time he could now get to hear his brother live. I had read somewhere that he too could sing so I asked him if he ever sang with Andrea to which he replied not these days! But I keep an eye on the presentation of my brother”. Dee and I returned to the Kiosk for our tickets but by now there was a much longer queue and they were still not open!
By around 5pm we were near the window and by 5.30 we were on our way back to La Mandriola with Pietro who had patiently waited for us, with the rehearsal tickets and to our relief the concert tickets as well. We asked Pietro to stop at a florist on the roadside where I had ordered, with Giancarlo’s assistance, a rose buttonhole to be made up to present to Andrea that evening. I also bought a beautiful orchid for Daniella as she was so good to us. At this point, Journalies, I should explain why I was running around trying to get wi-fi to read my emails. Unbeknown to Jane when we knew we were going to go on this adventure I had had the idea that crown our Golden Wedding we would try to go to mass on the Sunday in Andrea Bocelli’s church and ask the priest if we could have our marriage ‘blessed’ in the presence of the man himself. This was Plan A. I wrote to Andrea Bocelli’s agent explaining why we were going at this special time and asking if he would be there. The agent who I learned later was now his wife wrote back a charming letter saying that he was busy on the Sunday with the family and would not be there but she sent sincere congratulations to us and hoped we would enjoy the concert. Plan B was now to try and meet with Andrea Bocelli and shake his hand and to tell him how much we admired not only his singing and his philosophy of life but also the work his Foundation was doing for the less fortunate people all around the world. I approached our dear friend Mike Dixon who had directed Maestro Bocelli at the Diana Concert at Wembley in 2007. Mike said he would have a go at something for us especially as this was a special time for us. He tried all avenues right up to the time we were leaving for Italy but nothing could be worked out. His last email to me was simply “It’s not over
until the fat lady sings…. So you can imagine three day later, the day of the dress rehearsal when I received a text message we read – “The fat lady won’t sing now!!! – read your email! So here I was in the middle of nowhere with no Internet so no email! No wonder Jane thought I was edgy! I traced the router to a barn and tried to connect with a password Giancarlo had given me with another smiling “nessun problemo” and God must have been in the barn as this time I connected and read the e-mail from Mike which gave me instructions on where to be and at what time and the name of the person to meet there before the rehearsal began who would take us to meet the Maestro.. It was then I told Jane that we would be shaking hands with Andrea Bocelli that evening!! Plan B was up and running thanks to the brilliant efforts Mike Dixon. We now had to make certain that we could get to the ‘hole in the ground’ i.e. the Theatre of Silence, just over the hill? on time..
had been told that our lodging – La Mandriola, was 680 metres from the “Theatre of Silence” – but this information had a distinct Italian flavour! In fact Dee and her friend Margaret had tried to walk it one year and got lost in the dark and had to be picked up hours later. So we decided to enlist the help of Pietro yet again. We arranged for him to take us into Lajatico at around 6pm (so we said 5pm please!) and all four of us arrived in the town square around 6.15. The others went off to eat somewhere and we found a small bar with tables outside and had a quick Tuscan supper. Tuscan ham, wonderful home-baked bread and local wine. Another Tuscan supper!
We knew we could walk to the concert venue in about 20 minutes. We were only now anxious to be at the Artists ramp by 8 pm to meet a CarloTomba. We left Lajatico at about 7.15, and made our way to the road we knew led to the road to the Theatre, and began walking first of all uphill, and then downhill, the road becoming less of a road, and more of a dirt path!! We were quite excited, but also very nervous that we wouldn’t get there in time.
Harvey needed to rest occasionally, but at last we came across a barrier across the road, manned by a man in black trousers and a white shirt, whose name was Mr. Jobworth 2. We had an altercation, as he stated in broken English we couldn’t come through the barrier until 8pm. However, Harvey showed him his phone with instructions, but he would not be moved! Then a voice spoke up in English, I will help you, I am a friend of Andrea’s. We jumped, and turned round to find a striking, very tall, very attractive, well dressed AfroItalian lady, who immediately started arguing with Jobsworth 2. “I am a friend of Andrea Bocelli ,”the woman announced, in English and Italian. She then spoke very close and loudly right into Jobsworth’s right ear and into his personal microphone. Before very long, the barrier was opened, Jobsworth 2 was left with his mouth wide open, and we were on our way down the very steep and stony path towards the to the rear of the huge arena which was now towering over us with our Afro/Italian lady following behind us willing us onwards. We arrived at the Artists gangway as instructed in Mike’s email and asked for CarloTomba, but again, we were met with blank stare and silence from Jobsworth 2’s brother!. There was a small group just inside the barrier listening to our requests for Carol Tomba and then one of them pointed said “there he is and called to him. So we encountered a good looking, honest face, who looked at us and said “Welcome Mr and Mrs Norton.”, shaking our hands vigorously. Carlo’s warm greeting surprised us somewhat! Then he said he had first to go up into LaJatico for a while and then he would take us to meet Andrea .But his earpiece obviously changed that and then, pulled us forward, and said he would go and see if Andrea was free now. He was, and we were led across a path and a nestle of portakabins, and out from came Andrea him-
self, smiling, and talking with Carlo. Carlo introduced us as the couple who were celebrating and he seemed to know all about us being there and why. He was warm and charming. He seemed to look at you straight in the eye even though totally blind. When we said we had been married for 50 years, he shouted “wow”!! – this surprised all around him and all were staring in our direction!! He asked some questions about us and Harvey told him how much we had enjoyed the TV story of his life and philosophy which had initially inspired us to make this trip he seemed quite touched. It was all a little overpowering after the struggle to get to him and words were failing H which, as most Journalies know, was not usual! We told him how much we were looking forward to the concert. What else we said, we have no clear idea except when Harvey told him that our great friend Mike Dixon, who had conducted Andrea at the Diana Memorial Concert at Wembley, sent his warmest good wishes he smiled and said quietly, “I remember”. Meanwhile a man, standing close by all this, had taken Jane’s camera from round her neck and snapped away happily!! We were so pleased later to see wonderful pictures of this once in a lifetime happening. The memory of this occasion and its almost surreal location and the speed at which it was finally arranged left us in a daze – but we now have evidence that the whole occasion was not a dream. but a fitting climax to the whole celebration of our 50 years of married life together which was finally unfolding as he had always hoped. We left the dressing room area, and made our way intending to go and sit down. However, who should we meet but Jobswoth 3’ - Jobsworth 1’s Aunt!! blocking our path to our seats. We showed our tickets, but, no, we couldn’t go and sit down, despite it by now being nearly 8pm, and she said we
had to go and wait in the queue, up a hill, and about 500 yards away back up the stony path where we had first been halted. Another couple of ‘oldies’ were sitting here on the steps, laughing, and they said they had refused to move as well, and so J. sat down with them refusing to budge.. Harvey meanwhile, started to remonstrate, as he can – and demanded to see Auntie Jobsworth’s superior. She waved her arms and shouted a bit and up came a gentleman who had been standing listening – he must have been her boss as he remonstrated with her using the word “stupido” and “idiota” which she seemed to understand as both of us, with the other couple, were ushered into the Arena to go and find our seats!! We meet The Maestro
What an evening!! There was a new moon rising, and slowly as night fell on this extraordinary place, we at last realised were at the place we had last seen on television eighteen months ago! We listened and watched the whole of the rehearsal which ended at approx. 11.15.pm. It was magical, and totally absorbing. We got up at the end, feeling priviledged, and blessed, and walked down to where we were meeting the â€œgroupiesâ€?!! Not only had we been transported by the events of the evening , but Giancarlo, our host at La Mandriola, was there to meet us having driven across the fields!! We were amazed, and thankfully, home was a very short drive through cornfields and a dirt track! We fell into bed that night, tired, our heads full of music, and talked for a long time before falling asleep. Saturday 6th. July â€“ Concert Day We woke later than usual, but were full of energy and great anticipation for the concert tonight with the memories of last evening reverberating in our heads. We were down in time for breakfast, which was Tuscany ham, local cheese, coffee, delicious home-baked bread and even cream cake!! Different home-made jams as and hard boiled eggs. Earlier Jane had spotted some chickens running around near one of the barns and she asked Daniela if we could buy some fresh eggs. She gave us six beautiful brown eggs with a large smile and made us understand they were the eggs of her chickens, and were freshly laid. .We knew we had to contain our energy for the evening especially anticipating the long walk to the arena until we were delivered into Lajatico by Pietro at approx. 6.30. So J. took her Kindle under the olive
trees, H. got onto his Ipad, eager to share the experiences of the night before with whomever he could capture on Skype now that we had sussed out the vagaries if the wife – almost anyway!
It was a beautiful morning with an unclouded sky and light that seemed to paint an extra depth into the panoramic views that surrounded us here. It was so peaceful here – no modern world noises just gentle breezes in the olive trees, little lizards playing in the orchard grass and the midges buzzing!! J. watched a family of swimmers in the pool for a while, and H. took some photos and rested in the cool. We had an early lunch up in the apartment – Jane cooked a wonderful omelette with Daniela’s eggs which were some of the best we have ever tasted along with the sweetest tomatoes from yesterday’s shop. This wonderful lunch, cooked in our own little kitchen and accompanied by fresh bread and cheese and of course a bottle of the white La Mandriola wine was memorable. We had a much needed siesta in the afternoon – total silence and peace! It was still very hot but the fan worked well!
We were dressed and ready for the evening by 5.30, and impatient to get off, but impatience is not a word in the Tuscan vocabulary so we became ‘Tuscan’ and relaxed. A good move as when Pietro appeared at 6.15 he was totally covered in sweat from having set up the tables on the back end of the pool area for a wedding reception this evening. He informed us, we think, that he would shower before taking us into the town. Anyway he disappeared and in our true Tuscan mode that seemed just fine. At about 6.40 ish Pietro appeared, and transported us into Lajatico. The ‘groupies’ didn’t come with us, as they had some friends who had appeared, and were taking them into town later. However we were ‘instructed’ by Dee that they would be coming back with us and we were given their seat numbers so that we could find them after the concert. We found Lajatico was crowded, all tables and chairs in the little Town Square were taken, and we almost despaired of ever finding a table. However we found a very nice couple who turned out to be English! Who made room for us at their table, gave Harvey their chair and moved up the bench so that I could sit down. We had just been to the small shop opposite for some food for the next day and we needed a drink and a sit. So this was good - we bought two large glasses of wine from one of the little cafes but neither of us seemed hungry – very unusual!! We found the English couple, Stephen and Christa, very friendly and entertaining. We swapped e- mail addresses and H started to get their life story as he usually does. This was obviously a second marriage – he was a marketing consultant and she was in ‘magazines’ – H. thank goodness did not pursue this as she was much younger than her husband and who knows what we might have learned!
They were a very nice couple and they too were going to the concert as part of a romantic journey to Tuscany.
Then because we knew we had to walk down to the Theatre in the fields, at about 7.45 we decided to make our way towards the arena. We each had our sticks, thank goodness, as it turned out. We took the first kilometre slowly as we had plenty of time. However, at the beginning of the downward slope, we saw in front of us a mass of people who were hardly moving . Our walk slowed down, and then came to a halt. We were nowhere near the arena, and all we could see stretching out in front were people! We joined this queue, and in a very short time there were people behind us, and we soon discovered this queue was stretching back nearly all the way to Lajatico. There were older people than us, and there were more infirm people than us, but no help was given to them at all , although we had read that a bus would be at the top of this downward slope to help those with problems. This must be an â€˜Italianâ€™ bus!
Never mind, despite our hearts and bodies now feeling a little heavy, we waited with all the others, smiling and trying to keep our spirits up and chatting to various divergent groups from English and American families and others – some with their grandparents and grandchildren. Some who had obviously done this before and were drinking wine and nibbles whilst on the march! Very, very slowly, and I mean slowly, the queue began to move, it took us over an hour and a quarter to reach the gates, - we gather they didn’t let anyone in until after 9 o’clock. How you get 10.000 people into a hole in the ground quickly obviously is a problem. But as Italians do not have ‘problems’ there was no solution! Bushes, trees and other ‘landmarks’ were proving to be very popular! We reached our seats around 9.15. Yesterday we had sat within the first 10 rows for the rehearsal - tonight the seats were much further back but near the middle and instead of looking up at the stage we had a different perspective and were looking down. We sank into these quite comfortable chairs with relief and great anticipation. The oldies had made it again, and unscathed!!
The concert began, not at 9.15 as advertised, but well after 9.45, but no matter, this is Italian time, it was electric, colourful, and the singing was amazing. The first half was taken from various operas, and we had arias from Andrea Bocelli and an Italian soprano. Apart from an 80 piece full orchestra there was a full chorus ranged across the back of the stage. These were wonderfully trained and sang a chorus from La Trovatore, which we had just seen in Verona. One item, the famous chorus – ‘Va pensiero’ from Nabucco, which is normally sung at a full bloodied fortissimo all through, was particularly beautiful. It started pianissimo and never got above forte-piano finishing with breathtaking diminuendo to nothing - and if you can imagine this singing on a giant pop-concert gantry style stage in the middle of a field, in a hole in the ground, under a new moon, you might understand why the old fella H. was ‘dissolved’ by the magic of it all!! And so it continued – wonderfully different and beautifully performed with Andreas and his guest performers all at the top of their form. The second half was of a more modern genre, and we had a young Italian songwriter, Peter Cincotti, living in America, who wrote and sang two of his own songs, accompanying himself on the piano. We had an ‘old’ male ballet dancer, who did a piece dressed in a white long dress, he wore white make up, and he danced and died – dying swan style, and then was ‘revived’ by the singing of Andrea Bocelli. Although it was surreal, it was very clever and beautifully executed – quite extraordinary and moving.. Most of the performers were from Italy or were of Italian descent. There was a set by an elder statesman of Italian pop culture - Ricardo Cocciente – a sort of Elton John! Who set the Italians alight! Especially the middle ages! The maestro sang a duet – ‘La Vie en Rose’ – which was Edith Piaf’s famous song with a
clever piece of technology on the big screen of her singing ‘in duet’ with Andrea - and in the same key!! Towards the end Andrea made our evening when he sang ‘Love Me Tender’. He appeared to be without a microphone and a stage hand rushed in with mike in hand. We had thought at the rehearsal this was just a ‘hitch’ but this he led Andrea towards the piano and sat at the keyboard. This was in fact Andrea Bocelli’s son and he accompanied the song for his father. Leaving H in dissolve mode yet again as this song had been sung by our own ‘Elvis’ at our 40th Anniversary ‘renewal of vows’ in The Little White Chapel in Las Vegas. The concert ended with its traditional finale - “Now Is The Time To Say Goodbye”, which neither of us realised was his own composition. Normally he sings this with a soprano but this night he sang it with the chorus – quite beautiful. The final encore was ‘Nessun Dorma’ with full on everything – pyrotechnics – smoke, searchlights lighting up the hills. This was an amazing colourful and musical spectacular! One it would be difficult to forget
It didn’t end until about 1.15, and we were amazed at how the time had flown. Again we were met, having found the ‘groupies’, and although we doubted that we would find Pietro, he found us!! We also came across the ballet dancer on his way the his tent. He was only too happy to talk to us and even discussed his performance and agreed to pose for a photo with us! He had obviously enjoyed himself. We returned again over the fields and tracks falling into bed after a few bites of bread and cheese and some glasses of wine!! Our aching bodies were aching, our heads full of memories and sounds. We almost immediately fell asleep.
Jane meets the ‘Dying Swan’
And we meet up with Andrea’s son who played the piano for his father
The Theatre of Silence
Sunday 7th. July at La Mandriola A day to relax and drink wine! This was a lovely day, we ate another delicious breakfast which we ate alone as no-one else seemed to be around. We thought this day would be an anticlimax but this was not the case. We think we felt that we had achieved our objectives we had set all those months ago and could now relax. We wandered around the ‘farm’ as we called La Mandriola, we slept, took photos and generally did very little but soak up the peace, tranquillity and relaxing atmosphere of this amazing place!! We remember we ate a whole melon, one that I had bought the night before, and it was delicious – we drank more La Mandriola wine and rested some more and feasted on the goodies we bought yesterday Monday 8th. July – Off to Pisa Monday was another day of travel! We breakfasted on the last of Daniela’s lovely breakfasts, and then went upstairs, packed, and took our last look around what had been the most wonderful holiday home. At breakfast we had learned from our ‘groupies’ that Giancarlo did not have a credit card facility. We had now fully adopted the ‘Tuscan Way’ and so it was nessun problemo’ for us to go and get the cash to pay our bill. This meant that we would have to make a journey into the only cash point in Lajatico. We tracked down Giancarlo to tell him we would be going into town to get the cash and he simply said “Like before” waving a piece of paper showing our deposit by bank transfer and uttering “nessun prolemo”!!
We finally established that he was happy for us to pay him when we got home! We asked Daniela to book us a taxi, and to our amazement the driver turned out to be the person who had first brought us to La Mandriola!! We said our fond farewell to Giancarlo and Daniela – hugs all round, and we left with the urge to come back one day soon as we had felt so ‘at home’ here,.
The taxi took us to Pisa, rather a long way by taxi, but a good way to use up some of the euros we had not spent!! The journey door to door took just under the hour.. We arrived at our hotel, which was in a tiny street, just wide enough for the car. This was an Italian 5* hotel! Tiny we thought – but it was like the Tardis – it was much bigger inside than we thought. Our room was cool and fully air-conditioned and beautifully appointed with complementary cold drinks in the fridge, large room and a bathroom with a ‘mind- relaxing’ shower with special lights – we used the shower but passed on the mind relaxing!
We sat in the bar, and had a glass of cold white wine, and we were brought crisps nuts and olives to eat with it. We then had a short rest on the bed, and then went exploring. We had decided when we knew we were flying home from Pisa that we would not try to climb the tower, it was really never an option. However, we did explore and wandered around the little streets, and the square, trying to take it all in. The weather was bright and sunny and Pisa was bustling with tourists.
The Leaning Tower is beautifully white and when you take a photo you find yourself ‘leaning’ and straightening up the tower! We stopped once more on the edge of the central Pisa square and watched the world go by whilst H. drank a large local beer and J. a coke light.
That night we ate in the hotel in a small outside patio area, where there were a number of beautiful shrubs, a blue one being a plumbago we think. The waiter recommended a white wine, which was a local one, and absolutely delicious, and with this we ate the lasagne, as this is what the waiter strenuously recommended, and he was proved right. We also enjoyed a sweet tomato and rocket side-salad. There were at least four layers of beef separated by pasta and béchamel sauce with a crispy cheese topping. The waiter, Franco, would not recommend a pudding! But instead suggested we went out and bought ice-cream in the street, but we weren’t to tell the hotel staff what he had said! He also wanted us to write in the visitor’s book that he had served us well, and we were only too happy to do so. He was only temporary, and he
wanted to be taken on permanently - anyway this was what we understood from his little bit of English, and hoped it was what he was telling us!! We went back into the street, and found many sellers of icecream. Jane chose a caramel and vanilla cream with an unknown topping and H. chose a 3 chocolate special! We walked back to our hotel happily scoffing - and so ended the evening in Pisa via the bar in the hotel where we had special coffees, a Tuscan tradition our friend the waiter told us!! â€“ Jane with brandy and H. with Grand Marnier.
Tuesday 9th. July Going home day We were due at the airport at 1.15 for our 3 o’clock flight back to Gatwick. So we went to breakfast which was a beautiful buffet stretching all along one wall of the bar area and beautifully set out. There was everything - exotic pastries, cakes, toasts, homemade breads and tarts along with cheeses and piles of fresh fruits. We could have stayed there until late morning but decided to look for a few gifts to take home. In a very peculiar antique cum junk cum art shop we spotted a print in a style which reminded H. of a picture on our doctor’s surgery wall. She paints! We fell for this as she had kept all our various ailments at bay long enough so that we could make this trip and certainly deserved some ‘reward’. We also found what turned out to be the last of the Alabaster Workshops in Pisa, whereas there used to be hundreds as Pisa sits on the world’s largest Alabaster mining area. We found an old man who still carved items from Alabaster and he gave us a potted history of the stone and how it is carved telling that the recession has struck this industry. His shop was filled with hundreds of different pieces from lamps and sculptures to delicate figurines and animals on which his wife hand painted designs. – too many different items to recall. We bought a few small items – Alabaster is quite expensive especially as he told us the clearer, tranluscent white stone comes from the deeper mines and is much more valuable. We returned to the Hotel – through the Tower Square for the last time. We had booked a taxi to take us to the airport allowing for Tuscan time as usual.
The airport was a mess – people everywhere rushing about – tourists not Italians, they don’t do rush! In the confusion a nice you man opened up a check in and pointed us to it – no queue! On this flight which was an EasyJet flight we did NOT try to take our small suitcases into the cabin as we had done on the outward journey with B.A. There was no problem checking in and once again we passed through security with flying colours! And so we proceeded to where the flight would load. We found a place near the barrier designated for ‘oldies’ so we ensconced ourselves to wait like Tuscan natives – patiently. Well from then on for the next hour almost we were treated to a Ryan Air flight loading at the barrier. We witnessed screaming women waving arms and shouting abuse the Ryan Air staff – their bag measuring device you must understand, dear weary Journalies, is smaller than every other airline so many of the passenger for this flight to Morocco had bags that were either too heavy or too big. The chaos escalated with one man hurling himself to the ground (acting?) and police being called – small tussles and the odd blow – one woman we saw had two children with her and simply emptied her case and threw clothing into the waste bins in an attempt to get past the barrier. She failed. This shouting, anger and mayhem lasted almost an hour and a few feet from where we were sitting – the hour passed like lightening for us.!! Then it was our turn to load on the plane – our nice young man who had checked us in arrived – pushed away the Ryan Air bag measurers and simple looked at our boarding passes and waved us though. Our plane loaded in 10 minutes! What we had witnessed was in fact very sad and we vowed then and there NEVER EVER to fly with Ryan Air.
The flight was uneventful and quick – after an hour and ten minutes we were landing at Gatwick having consumed a reasonable snack of pastries and coffee. We then hit a snag – we went to get our bus to the car park only to be told that we were at Gatwick South! And the buses did not go to the car park at Gatwick North. An airport policewoman told us that she was forever having tell people because EasyJet don’t tell passengers about this anomaly. So tired as we were and after three quarters of an hour of wandering up and down levels we found the shuttle train to Gatwick North and our bus to the car park. J had taken the precaution of writing down the position of our car so we were soon off and up the M23 homeward bound. The road were quite good so we decided to stop off at Penny’s to see our grandchildren. After a flying visit we were home at last by 8.30 pm – tired but very very happy people. We had just experienced the adventure to remember for ever. Finally, dear patient Journalies, to explain why you are receiving a book’’ instead of a Journale…… Both of us felt that this experience merited the full story – so there it is… you will have to blame two of our dearest friends who became early Journale junkies and keep requesting these mind boggling boring accounts of our travels. (Our ‘Trip to Tescos next??) This whole Tuscan adventure was conceived as a celebration of our 50 years of married life. We can certainly say that it exceeded all our expectations. We are so thankful that we had the health and strength to take it on and grateful to all those in Italy and the UK who helped to make it all possible and so memorable.
Our meeting with Maestro Andre Bocelli was certainly a fitting climax of this unforgettable Golden Wedding celebration. For this we thank Mike Dixon and his colleagues who made this very precious moment happen. Harvey and Jane July 2013
Footnote If you have reached the end you are now truly a ‘journalie’ Here are some live ‘Links’ to sites and YouTube videos which you might like to visit and some expurgated photos which did not fit into the text! List of URL’s Theatre of Silence -Photo Album
http://www.singhosanna.co.uk/theatreofsilence/index.html The Italian Adventure - Photo Album
http://www.singhosanna.co.uk/italianadventure/index.html YouTube Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk-iYuTQftg Andrea Bocelli’s Official Site http://www.andreabocelli.com