A tapestry of grapes

The empty drying racks.

About four months ago, a couple of friends and I had a wine tasting at the Frescobaldi vineyard at Castello Pomino. During the tour that preceded it, we saw the racks on which grapes would be hung to dry for Vin Santo. We asked if we could come back to see that, which we did the other day.

What a treat! I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the tapestry of grapes that met our eyes as we entered the loft. Three kinds of grapes—Trebbiano, Malvasia Toscana, and San Colombano—hung in rows. Our hostess explained that one of the advantages to hanging the grapes, as opposed to laying them horizontally to dry, is that the rotten grapes fall to the ground. The grapes will dry (which concentrates the sugar) until March when they will be made into Vin Santo and age in the barrel for seven years.

Naturally, we had to buy a bottle of Vin Santo before we left!

Images © Melissa Corcoran.

Certosa del Galluzzo

Problem: high heat, blazing sun, hibernating, now stir crazy.

Solution: morning trip to a monastery in the hopes the hilltop situation and the stone buildings will make it cooler.

Visiting Certosa del Galluzzo wasn’t quite as cool as I had hoped, but being on a hilltop let us feel a breeze and the tour was interesting.

On arriving, I learned that the position on top of a hill and between the Greve and Ema rivers helped give the monastery the isolation necessary for the lifestyle of the Carthusian Order: “achieving a knowledge of God in the wilderness.” The monastery was built in the fourteenth century at the request of Niccolò Acciaioli, who belonged to a wealthy family of bankers in Florence and who wanted to found a monastery dedicated to St. Lawrence the Martyr. 

The first building we entered was the art gallery of the Acciaioli Palace, to which Niccolò Acciaioli intended to retire. Here I learned of a painter new to me, Pontormo, who fled to the monastery in 1523 to escape the plague. Sadly, the paintings he made for Certosa are badly damaged, but in the gallery along with the originals are copies made by other painters, which give a clearer idea of what his paintings might have looked like originally.

After visiting the church, chapter house, and cloister, we were led to one of the monks’ cells, which was fascinating because the pattern of monasticism was different from what I’ve read about in books. The monks spent most of their time in their cells, leaving only to attend the liturgical celebrations of the day and to eat with the other monks on feast days. Their cells were, therefore, small apartments, rather than just a room for sleeping and praying. Each had a garden and rooms for eating, studying, and resting. Meals were brought to the cell by lay brothers and passed through a ‘turn.’ The guide told us that if the meals remained uneaten for a couple of days, only then would someone enter the cell to check on the monk.

Even the title of the guidebook I purchased was a learning experience! It’s titled The Chartreuse of Florence and I wondered if this was a translation gone awry. Researching online later, I read that the name Carthusian is derived from the Chartreuse Mountains, where the founder of the order, Saint Bruno, built his first hermitage. The word charterhouse, which is the English name for a Carthusian monastery, is derived from the same source. Who knew?!

Stir craziness alleviated, at least temporarily!

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Images © Melissa Corcoran.

Different eyes

Looking through photos I took during the visit of family members earlier this year, I noticed that for the first few days, I didn’t have many. It’s not because I’m blasé about the beauty with which I’m surrounded, and dismiss various sights as ‘seen it, don’t need photo of it.’ I have hundreds of photos of the Duomo, for example, and a view of the city from my apartment that I take a moment to appreciate every day.

However, I live here and often when I’m going into town, I’m doing errands and intent on getting in and out of the center of the city as fast as possible, especially during tourist season. Some of the sights that tourists gather around—like the street artists recreating famous paintings on the pavement or the sculptural gelato displays—I dismiss as ‘for the tourists.’ Also, in this case, I was very conscious of my role as ‘tour guide’ and intent on getting us to places so they could see as much as possible. Oh, the responsibility!

It took seeing this photo of my sister’s, which is of one of the street artists, to make me slow down on our walks through the city and appreciate anew some of the sights I see frequently and some of the details I had never noticed. More, though, I found my appreciation of the beauty amplified by the reaction of my visitors, especially my sister. Perhaps it’s because we are sisters and both photographers, but noticing what she was photographing and hearing her reaction to what we were seeing almost overwhelmed me.

I find my dedication to capturing images waxes and wanes, but thanks to seeing the city through the eyes of my sister and the lens of her camera, I’m enthused again. 

Gnomon, revisited

Today, I attended a summer solstice event at Santa Maria del Fiore (aka the Duomo)—the observation of the transit of the sun on the meridian plane, a phrase I don’t understand any better than I did when I attended Lo Gnomone a couple of years ago! As with reading certain books, though, I hope that repetition will eventually lead to some degree of understanding.

What stood out for me this year, having seen this before, was the reaction of other people. When the sun’s rays first appeared on the pillar opposite me, the couple next to me was astonished. When the sun’s light morphed into a disc on the floor, people were craning necks and lifting phone cameras to capture the image, especially since it disappeared and reappeared as clouds moved over the sun. When the disc of light eventually covered the marble disc on the floor, the woman next to me said, “You can actually see the sun move.” When I repeated what the professor giving the presentation said, “It is we who are moving,” her eyes widened and she said, “You’re right!” It was a great moment of connection over this interesting phenomenon.




Castello Pomino

Peter Sagal, of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, will often say to the Not My Job guest, “What a pleasure to talk to you.” That’s what I would say about a recent tour and wine-tasting at Castello Pomino—what a pleasure!

Castello Pomino is one of the Frescobaldi vineyards and as we learned, the one highest in elevation. Driving there took us through a forest that eventually opened into hillsides covered with grapevines. It came into the Frescobaldi family via Leonia degli Albizi, who married Angelo Frescobaldi. The branch of the Albizi family from which she was descended was banished from Florence in the 14th century and made their way to France. They were eventually called back to Italy in the 19th century by the last surviving member of the Italian branch of the family. When he died, the estate passed to her family.

As our tour went on, I developed a ‘girl crush’ on Leonia. In addition to introducing, with her brother Vittorio, French varieties of grapes, she built the first gravity-fed cellars in Italy (we saw the building plan!). A recent addition to Pomino’s wines—the first sparkling wine produced in Tuscany—was named Leonia in her honor.

Our guide was excellent and made the history of Pomino come alive. Tasting the wines was even more interesting than usual, as they seemed so much a part of the stories we heard.

Images © Melissa Corcoran.