It IS a small world after all. Here in rural Italy I am shocked and delighted to bump into a man wearing a Tar Heel sweatshirt. But Omar admitted he had no idea what the words meant. I think he just liked the colors. Go Heels anyway! (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

What’s your favorite thing about international travel?

The food? The local drinks? The strange new sights? Learning a new language? Navigating the travel challenge? Overcoming your fear of being out of your comfort zone?

Well, all that — and one more vital factor, which for me is my very favorite thing about international travel — the people you meet and the interaction you have with them.

The neighboring farmwife appeared yesterday bearing fresh eggs, homegrown onions and potatoes — and most prized of all, their own extra virgin olive oil. In return, we gave them some Chapel HIll Toffee. (Jock Lauterer photo)

If “travel broadens,” as the old maxim goes, then it’s the local folks along the way who have the most impact on whether the trip is a success or not.

As we look back on just one week here in Italy, I see faces of new friends and old. And folks — shopkeepers, craftspeople, musicians —  who we befriended two years ago when we first came to Montepulciano to celebrate our 20th anniversary.

Spending an entire month in just one town in another land completely changes the dynamics of the human experience. Once Italians find out you are not a “day-tripper,” but are actually a “temporary local,” they immediately brighten and begin treating you like you matter.

For my part, I am compelled to put together a photographic collection of these fine folks, in sort of a keepsake photo album.

Here are some of our favorites in Montepulciano.

I have to start with the 80+ year old cobbler, Virio Neri, who we met in 2015, but whose shop was dark and shuttered on the first day we trekked up the main “Corso” in town, setting loose fears that he had died in our absence.

Then the joy on the following day when we found him –  very much alive after all, and still working at his simple little shoemaker’s shop.

80-plus and still going strong, the town’s legendary cobbler, Virio Neri, repairs Lynne’s shoes but refuses to take any compensation. The same operation back in states cost $50. “He is the heart of memory in our community,” says his good friend, linen shop owner Pier Luigi. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

Surrounded by his wares, the dapper linen merchant Pier Luigi takes a call in his shop just off the “Corso,” Montepulciano’s main way. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

WIG LADY This is admittedly “street photography” and I did not bother this wig merchant for her name. But the ironic juxtaposition of the scene was irresistible for this photographer.
Wild boar is a local delicacy in Tuscany. Wielding his knife to make paper thin cuts, butcher Paulo LAST NAME prepares sandwich meat for a customer, and then offers a tasting sample. Jock Lauterer photo.

 

Resting against the back of his pick-up truck, retired master carpenter Franco Cherubini restored a 200-year-old farmhouse which he rents out to lucky folks like us. The 67-year-old Franco brings us fresh firewood every morning. And we’ve grown used to the sight of him out before sun-up, sweeping the driveway, bare-chested. Jock Lauterer photo.

 

A highlight of the week in Montepulciano, the Thursday market is a feast for the senses. .With much arm-waving and gesturing, transactions happen across the peppers and melons. For many locals, the weekly “Mercado” is as much a social event as it is about shopping commerce. Jock Lauterer photo.

 

Not a McDonald’s in sight: Montepulciano is rich with local artisans who create unique works. A puppet master for 20 years, Silvio Dotteri displays one of his hand-made Pinocchio coin banks. Jock Lauterer photo.

 

 

 

 

 

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