I’m not sure if I’ve been in a fairy tale or a movie, but my visit to Castello di Porciano was magical.
Our hostess was the owner of the castle, Martha Specht Corsi. Before lunch our first day, she took us through the living quarters of the castle (a museum occupies the bottom three levels and the living quarters the top three levels) and onto the roof terrace. What incredible views of the Casentino valley! We could see the village of Stia nestled in a fold of the valley and green-upon-green hills, with clouds sweeping across the sky and sudden shafts of sunlight illuminating features of the landscape.
Martha pointed out the village cemetery and invited us to be present at the “Day of the Dead” ceremony that afternoon. Beforehand, we went to the cemetery to place flowers in front of the tombstones of Martha’s parents. The cemetery was the most beautiful burial place I’d ever seen – filled with well-tended graves. Martha explained that the people of the village stop by on their walks to say hello to their family members who are buried there. I’m sure the living must miss their dead, but the cemetery did not feel morbid or weighted with sorrow, but filled with love.
When we returned to the cemetery later, people were standing by the graves of their family members and waiting for the priest to arrive from Mass in the small village church. Martha and her husband went to stand outside the small chapel where her parents are buried. Since he had no one to stand by him, we positioned ourselves by the tombstone of a Russian professor friend whose grave Martha tends.
Just before the priest arrived, a young woman hurried in and went to one of the graves near where I was standing. She kissed the tombstone, made the sign of the cross and rubbed the tombstone in an affectionate gesture. Martha told us later that the three actions are performed in either that order or reverse order, but always together.
The approach of the procession from the church was signaled by the sound of prayers coming from the road. A man holding a crucifix came through the gate first, followed by a group of men and women, then by the priest flanked by two small altar boys. The priest stood at the door of the chapel, facing out into the cemetery, and said the prayers. Then he walked down the center aisle of the cemetery, shaking holy water onto the graves and bystanders as he blessed them. Afterwards, people visited with each other and the cemetery took on the air of a quiet, friendly gathering.
That evening, there was a celebratory dinner for Martha’s birthday, which included the surprise appearance of a friend of hers from the USA. From the champagne toast and canapés to the mille-feuille, it was a wonderful evening of conversation and goodwill, enhanced by the glamour of dining in an actual castle!
A drive through the surrounding towns the next day served to whet my appetite for more exploration of the Casentino valley. We ran errands (loved the old-fashioned hardware store!), visited an antiques dealer, and explored the church of San Pietro a Romena. This doesn’t often happen to me, but I was speechless as we drove up to the Castello di Poppi and down through the surrounding village. Just when you think you’re tired of the look of Tuscan villages, you are seduced all over again! We wrapped up our explorations with lunch at a wonderful restaurant that ended with a drink of ‘liquid sunshine,’ otherwise known as Granello.
Driving out of the Casentino that afternoon was like leaving an enchanted valley, one to which I will return.