Friday, October 2, 2009

San Gimignano

We quickly walked to Leo's car. I admit I started to feel more than a little nervous when he opened the car trunk and started removing his jacket, his tie and then his shoes. I hovered near the passenger door, not sure if he was actually going to strip right down to his underwear and change his clothes. It was something I didn't want to witness.

I felt relief when I saw he was only putting on a sturdy pair of tennis shoes. It was another warm day and I was roasting in my dark woolen suit and dress boots. I was too shy to even remove my jacket. Leo asked if I would like to go to San Gimignano. The words San Gimignano sounded poetic and he seemed enthusiastic about the side trip. I agreed right away. We began to drive through Tuscany, the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. I relaxed and knew I was safe.

It was springtime and the sky was a clear azure blue. I could see the hill town high above the green valley as we made our approach. Cypress trees dotted the landscape. Leo pulled into a gravel parking lot and let me know we had arrived. I was uncertain of our exact location. From that angle it was impossible to see the town's towers. Young olive trees lined the parking lot and the inclined walkway to the town. We began the long walk up. It was steep and the gravel was slippery, but I kept my distance from Leo, although he offered me his arm several times. As we rounded the last corner, the town magically appeared right in front of me. I was spell-bound. I know now San Gimignano is a must see tourist spot, but at that time, I was a shy girl seeing a hill town for the first time. Once inside the walls of the city, I only had eyes for the buildings. I never "saw" the tourist shops.

I know Leo was surprised. Perhaps he had thought to take me on a little tourist excursion...see the shops, eat some gelato, take in the local color. Instead, he saw something else. I wanted to put my hands on those old medieval buildings. I wanted to look at every detail, the windows, the doors, the arches. I strained my neck skyward to study the towers. For several hours I took pictures, hoping to capture it all inside my camera. Leo allowed me to take the lead and we explored paths leading to the outside walls and the living areas. He spoke to me about the history of this area. It was here that I first noticed ceramics in the style of Andrea della Robbia.

I was enchanted that afternoon in San Gimignano. When it was time to leave, Leo wanted to make a quick stop inside a ceramics shop. He was searching for an item and then I saw him purchase something, for his wife apparently. I signaled I was done and would wait outside. As he left the shop, he handed ME the small package. I was...embarrassed. I gently pulled off the wrapping and found a charming lidded container. I had to turn away from him to hide my tears. It was so silly to cry over such a small gift that I was sure meant more to me than it did to him. I tried to regain control. He could not have fathomed that no man had ever done such a kind spontaneous thing for me. Leo has a heart of gold, which is not appreciated by his family.

Even today, it makes me cry to think of that gift. It caused so many years of disappointment to just bubble to the surface. Don't men realize that moments such as these are what we women crave? A simple gift and a wonderful day with absolutely no strings attached.

As we walked out of town and approached the gates of the city, I had a crazy wild feeling that I needed to touch this wonderful man, just for a second. Due to the incline and my slippery boots, I had already accepted the offer of his crooked arm to keep steady. I had noticed that this Italian custom was really quite practical, without any of the romantic American connotations. I decided I would do it. I knew I would never see him again.

And so, ever so cautiously, I touched two fingers to the inside of his wrist. Just once. He told me months later he felt a jolt of electricity at that moment. I felt a jolt too...but it was totally impractical to even consider. This was a married man. A happily married man as he had written months prior. I focused on the "happy." I was only his guest for a few hours. The countryside had gotten to me for a moment. The setting was just too romantic.

As we returned to the car, Leo picked a tiny piece of olive branch for me. He also placed several small shards of ancient Etruscan pottery, which he had brought for me, into the little lidded container. An elderly man, who was parked nearby, offered to take our picture with my camera.

That late afternoon picture shows a glowing couple, standing close to each other.

A few hours later I was speeding north on a train, heading home to my family.

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