When it was suggested that we go to the Polenta Festival in the nearby town of Monterchi on our first night in Tuscany, I wasn't sure what Polenta was, but even though I was tired, I didn't want to miss anything, so off I went with our small group prepared to be surprised. Surprised I was. First by the uphill hike to Monterchi Center where the festival was being held, and then by the food and good humor of the people there.
We pulled our cars into a parking lot at the foot of Monterchi Center, climbed out and looked up ... and up ... and up. Looming overhead was what appeared to be an ancient stone foretress, lit up with a welcoming glow of lights, music drifted down toward us. Crossing the street we had a choice of walking up a winding roadway or climbing up centuries old crumbling stone steps. Since climbing the very steep steps would be quicker than following the winding road, we opted for the steps. They definitely provided a good cardio workout before we stepped onto a stone roadway hugged on either side by connecting stone homes that had remarkable panoramic views of Tuscany at night. One thing that struck me about the homes is that some had sliding glass doors cut into the old stone walls, the juxtaposition of such contemporary architectural detail forged out of ancient architecture made me stop and take notice.
We followed the road upward (there's a lot of upward in Tuscany) until we reached a landing in the road where tables displayed local crafts for sale. Making a left hand turn, we continued up 40 or 50 more feet and finally arrived at Monterchi Center and the location of the festival. The small center seemed more like a courtyard, surrounded by ancient buildings and what looked to me like a stone fortress, updated and used as a community center. Small shops lined the courtyard on one side, and on the other long white open-sided tents were set in rows, inside of each tent were long family style tables, and sitting at each table were friendly groupings of people enjoying polenta dishes in white throw-away bowls. Bottles of wine were set at strategic positions along the tabletops.
We stood in line and selected one of three polenta dishes offered and carried our warm bowls off to find a place to sit. I had chosen a mushroom dish that proved to be outstanding. Others chose the dish made with wild boar. I've never eaten wild boar and didn't feel any real need to start then. The mushroom concoction was layered over large chunks of polenta, a form of bread that reminded me of cornbread and I ate every morsal, washing it all down with a few bottomless glasses of Prosecco. Prosecco is a white, sweet, bubbly wine that it turns out goes with just about every food choice I made while in Italy.
The other people at our table were congenial and we all tried to communicate as best we could. Each speaking more or less English and Italian. A small band and a woman singer were set up on a corner of the courtyard and entertained the crowd.
Eventually it was time to leave and walk back down the ancient stone steps to our cars. Without a doubt the walking down was much more comfortable than the walking up.
Back at the villa we said our good nights and each wandered off to their room, sleepy after a long day of travel and a quiet evening of good food and drink. I was careful to pull my bed away from the villa wall and tuck my slippers under the covers at the foot of the bed having been told that scorpions like the warm stone of old villas and seeing small scorpions is not uncommon. I am happy to report that of all the wonders I saw in Italy, a scorpion was not one of them.
In the morning we were off to the gorgeous Medieval city of Anghiari.
To be continued ...
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