Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Arrival at San Fedele

  Saturday we arrived at San Fedele in Tuscany for the start of our season.  After the kamikaze highway from Rome to Florence it was blissfully peaceful cruising up the cypress-lined driveway to this 12th century monastery.  The iron gates swept open to us.  The caretakers, Cesare and Enza, were there to greet us as Nicolo, the proprietor, ambled out of his door to give us a big hug.  The greetings were reverent, but stunted because there was a big bus packed with 25 watercolorists kicking up dust on the road right behind us.
It’s like the first day of camp, getting everyone off the bus, sorting luggage, assigning rooms, giving a tour of the facility.  On the terrace overlooking the olive groves we served cold water laced with the acacia essence Linda had steeped back in Morolo.
Sunday – a beautiful sunny day – started with a painting lesson on the terrace and ended with a birthday dinner for our program manager, Michelino.  The whole group arrived at the Corsignano winery nearby just in time for a spectacular sunset view of Siena.  Mario, the proprietor/winemaker, took us on a tour of the vineyard and cellar, then settled us at a long table, under the wisteria, for dinner.  
The Chianti flowed while his wife Elena, delivered courses of panzanella (a Tuscan bread salad w/ tomato, cucumber and red onion), batter dipped vegetables, white bean and rosemary bruschetta (pronounced with a hard “c”, not a shhhh…) and pappardelle with lamb sauce.
When the lights dimmed the molten chocolate cake arrived with candles, followed by & Italian versions of “Happy Birthday” (“Tanti Auguri”).  Michelino, ever the gentleman, turned it around to wish all the mothers a happy Mothers’ Day.
Tanti Auguri!
So early in the week, no one really knew the Il Chiostro staff or their talents, so it was quite a surprise when Michelino got up to sing.  With chocolate still coating his throat he managed a charming rendition of Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You” followed by Kern’s romantic ballad “My Ship”.  Everyone was astounded to think that their van driver was also a terrific tenor.
Birthday hats made from paper bags our fried vegetables were served in...artists are so creative!
Then Linda stepped onto the “stage” where she delivered an endearing, a cappella “Mama”, in honor of Mothers day and then Michelino’s favorite “Anima e Coure”.  There is something about songs in Italian – you don’t need to understand the words to feel the heart rending sentiment.  It’s their poetry, the way they sing and the way they live life – full throttle.
As we were leaving I overheard someone say “And I thought we were just coming to take a painting workshop!”