From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 69
Maria’s Joke
After losing half a day fighting Dante’s ghost and then giving in to it and writing a chapter about Dante and Gioviano, I was about to go crazy. So, we decided to follow Susan Rodgers' directions and find the Agriturismo Al Benefizio (farm with tourist facilities) that they had stayed in above Barga. Susan made a serious bid on Maria’s house and gardens just above the Agri after falling in love with her farm and view of Barga.

Susan told me in an e-mail exactly how to get there, and she said that the road was wide. What she didn’t know was that a Peugeot 806 minivan, should really be called a “maxivan” in Italy. She also didn’t know that squeezing past Maria’s house without tumbling down the mountainside meant hugging the wall so tightly that the rearview mirror was tangled in the vines that cling to the stones. Just making the hairpin turn to enter the road to the farm meant crossing the bridge at Ponte di Catagnana, finding a way to turn around and doubling back.

Francesca, Francesco, and little Vittoria, along with a passel of dogs greeted us with open arms. Francesca nearly died laughing that Susan had been sucked into Maria’s fun. She explained that one of Maria’s practical jokes was telling all of the visitors to the Agri that her house was for sale if they would bring her a sack with enough money in it

At that very moment Maria came sailing in. I said, “Maria, sono venuto con un sacco di soldi, spediti insieme da Susanna Rodgers per comprare la sua casa. Lei ha una settimana sola per andare via o per trasferirsi in cantina per dormire.” (“Maria, I have come with a sack of money sent with me by Susanna Rodgers to buy your house. You have only a week to be gone or to move into the cellar to sleep.”)

Maria grinned from ear to ear and said, “Un sacco di soldi eh. Dove sono?” (“A sack of money, eh. Where is it?”) She had called my bluff, and so we all laughed together. Poor Susan! Maria had scored again. I wonder how long her victim list is.

Francesco then showed us his huge stainless steel vats loaded down with hundreds of pounds of fresh honey and gave us a taste. A child was happily swimming in the pool, and one of the guests was reading a book, lying in a comfy looking hammock in the shade of a loggia that looks out toward the Renaissance palaces of Barga.

Except for the skinny road, it was a good and relaxing respite from having been practically assaulted by Dante’s ghost earlier in the day.

The Agriturismo “Al Benefizio” is exactly five crow miles from Gioviano, so it meets the criteria for being added to our short list under “Places to Stay.”

Updated December 22, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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