Writing from Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy, where we have returned for the fourth time.
The learning of names, the remembering of their weight, tone and heft, the who of the where — is not unlike learning new students’ names on the first day of class. How it matters to be able to call out that name correctly, so rich with authenticity, a soul-deep validation of one’s unique nature.
All this matters to the “temporary local,” a term learned from for the indefatigable travel guru, Rick Steves.
The concept is deceivingly simple: instead of going through your travels living out of your suitcase as a day-tripper (If this is Brussels, it must be Tuesday), you plunk down somewhere, unpack and settle in — like a newcomer to your new town where you intend to live — where names and places matter deeply because you will need to know those facts just to get around and get along.
So, while becoming thus engaged may seem to be a matter of enlightened self-interest, the mindset also changes everything. As a temporary local, you become a part of the life of the community, rather than a passive passing observer — glancing but not really seeing. Dashing about, but not really absorbing.
Key to this practice is purposefully making friends throughout the day as you explore your new “home.” Thus, we collect townspeople instead of trinkets, new friends instead of souvenirs, experiences instead of selfies.
There’s Ria the cheese lady, Gabriella at the bookbinder’s shop, Giuseppe the singing souvenir shop owner and Omero at the pottery store.
We’ll never forget busy and bustling Alfredo at La Briciola restaurant; helpful green-eyed Martina at the tourist office off Piazza Grande, or distinguished Pier Luigi and his kind sister, Alda Maria, at the linen shop.
We’ll keep close in our hearts generous Daniella and cheery Jonathan at the Cantina Gattavecchi wine cellars, businesslike Francesco at his Ai Quattro Venti restaurant, accommodating landlords Giacomo and Maria at the lovingly restored 19th century Politian Apartments we rented the year before.
Closer to home, at our rented restored farmhouse in the olive groves, “La Casina Toscana,” our firewood appears magically every morning well before dawn, delivered by the burly Franco. The father of our landlord, 70-year-old Franco looks as fit as rugby player half his age.
As the village chapel bells peal, a distant farm dog barks, a rooster greets the day — I know Franco and his wheelbarrow of dry olive logs will appear, trundling down the rock driveway he built by hand. We call out to each other, “Buon Giorno!” Thus, the day begins.
Up and down the main drag, — the “Corso” as it’s called — we have made friends, built relationships and become devotees of this place that one British ex-pat here endearingly calls “Monty-P.”
A photo gallery of our friends cheers the heart.