On arrival at Fiumicino airport, rent a car after baggage claim. A cinquecento if you can, classic green, or white. Pile the suitcase, the picnic hamper, the straw hat into the trunk. Make sure you have an espresso doppio, or two, before you go.
The drive to Montalcino is two and a half hours long. Four without a GPS, but getting lost is half the fun. Use a real map, an old map that has earned its creases and stains. Stop and ask for directions. Stop for coffee, ask again. Stop for the view of the vineyards, the sunset. Stop to taste Tuscan grapes.
Up the narrow, winding road that goes to the top of the hill. Sant’Angelo in Colle only has one anyway. And one church, one market stand, one village square, and a quaint little restaurant where your pici will be thick, fresh, rolled by hand. But Minnie will tell you all about it once you have arrived, which you do at half past six. Aperitivo time.
Big brown eyes, reddish brown hair fly out the cottage door.
Finally! You have arrived!
In a flurry of Italian kisses and words, you walk into the cottage. Welcome to Minnie Romano’s home. For the next week it is yours.
Vino rosso o bianco?
Rosso for now. Eventually you will have both. And spongy warm ciabatta infused with olive oil and thyme.
La mia vicina alla destra made the wine from her grapes, and la mia vicina alla sinistra knew you were coming, so she baked the bread.
The olio, she beams proudly, comes from my olive trees. But you have not seen the garden yet! I will show you. Salute! Drink up!
Minnie Romano’s cottage is not a hotel, hostel, guesthouse. It is the house she bought ten years ago when she came here to start a new life.
When I was young, I climbed mountains, visited countries, met people who became my friends. Borders were fluid, doors were left unlocked, no place was too far. Then I grew up and people became strangers. Worried about money, busy with work. It is very narrow, the world of adults, especially when November comes.
One November in particular, her sister Jenny called. Jenny was in Paris, and Paris was far. We are all missing loved ones dispersed around the globe.
What if I brought some friends over and we spent a couple of days?
How many friends?
Eight or ten.
In this tiny place?
I told her: Just come! We will figure it out!
And they came and did. Jenny, Merya, Meghdut, Lorenzo, Etienne and the gang. Some slept on the sofa, on the floor, in the basement, three to a bed. Minnie’s cottage was full. She made coffee in batches and big bowls of pasta for nine.
They piled into the rented car each day and went wherever she would recommend. She told them what to see and where she would stop to eat. At night over wine they talked, ate, drank, and laughed loudly and well.
When they left she realized that her house, any house, was too big for one.
I wanted to bring people from everywhere, home. To make my world wide again. Jenny said: Why don’t you do it then? I will help.
And she did.
Now Minnie’s cottage is an open house, and it and her life are full of rich conversations that go on for hours around her oak table each night. Her guests are old friends, new friends, from every place, of every faith. Travelers, ambitious, cosmopolitan citizens of a globalized world, who at the end of the day, are people, just people, who want a home to come to.
Finally! You’re here! You have arrived before dusk and its evening blues. Home is that light she left on in the window, just in case, waiting for you. Stay as long as you want. Pay if you can, not because you must. You are family now; your contribution is your company. Be generous with your humor and time.
Tomorrow you must drive to Pienza to taste their Pecorino. Stop by my friend’s winery on your way. Tell her I sent you. She will offer you her Brunello. Accept and stay for lunch, but make sure you are hungry by the time you return tonight!
La mia vicina alla sinistra, Francesca, is a spectacular cook. Tomorrow night, the menu will be ‘Viva la Pasta!’ She will prepare it all here.
Fettuccine with wild boar and tomato ragout. A Tuscan specialty. Then of course our Montalcino pici with bread crumbles, garlic, and olive oil. Vegetables from her garden, and to finish, tiramisu. She has been chilling it since yesterday. It will be divine. And of course we will sit outside.
Outside, on the wicker chairs, under the olive trees. You will light candles. Sophya the cat will join, and probably the neighbors too. Whoever you are, stranger, you will be with family. You are with family now. You are home, and home is not a place. It is a Finally! You’re here!
Minnie Romano, this one is for you. With much admiration and love.