Italy

Buonconvento

Saturday, 21 ottobre 2006

This was our typical breakfast, except that breakfast this day featured bread baked by Stefano in the brick oven the day before. The granola is made after the last pizzas are baked in the brick oven on pizza nights, left in the warm oven overnight to bake. Here it is served over fresh plain yogurt. What’s missing in the photo that was available each day is homemade jam and preserves and hard-boiled eggs.

I stopped by the Spannocchia gift shop (a small room that also served as the guest check-in) and bought my souvenirs from them. I purchased La Cucina di Spannochia (a self-published cookbook), an embroidered apron with the image of the “Castello di Spannocchia” on it, several laminated bookmarks with sprigs of wildflowers and herbs, honey, one bag of farro (an Italian grain similar to wheat), and two bottles of red organic Spannocchian wine.

Charlie and Debby decided to take us to a small town that was off the tourist track, and which also had a museum dedicated to the subject on which we were concentrating – the Museo della Mezzadria.

Buonconvento had a street market on Saturday mornings which sold many different kinds of items, including produce, meats, cheeses, household goods, shoes, and clothing. This was a shopping place for the regular Italian residents, although we still ran into a few Americans. No wonder people get sick of us – we’re everywhere! Rain sprinkled off and on and the sky threatened more to come, so I bought a cheap umbrella and Sandino, who is much too manly to be caught dead with an umbrella, bought a wool cap. Along with his wool coat, his outfit performed a lot better than I expected, I’ll admit.

I spent a few euros here on a tablecloth with a green/blue olive design (to remind me of those tablecloths in the Spannocchia dining room), a cute little woven kitchen rug (which, of course, Miss Jazz anointed within a month), and a gold wool zippered sweater whose price mysteriously increased between the time I asked about it and the actual purchase, but I let it go and didn’t argue about it. I’m a terrible shopper at these places – lousy for me but great for the vendors to whom I finally break down and relinquish my money. And I do love the sweater – it was the only clothing purchase for me other than the apron from Spannocchia and my Firenze walking shoes.

The main street had small businesses with residences above and was quite lovely. I would have liked to have spent a little more time here, just to dawdle a bit, poke around in the little shops. As we all turned the corner to enter the museum at the end of the street, the sporadic sprinkles turned into heavy rain. We spent the next hour roaming the museum by ourselves, and the museum staff was kind enough to lend us an upstairs education room to have our picnic lunch in.

The museum was focused on the mezzadria agricultural system, the owner-manager-tenant farm system that was suddenly dismantled during the 1960s. In the United States, the new industrial agricultural system took decades to overtake the small farmers and sharecroppers. Surprisingly, in Italy, it was much swifter. We like to have a romantic ideal of the small Tuscan farm, when in reality, they have struggled with the same “get big or get out” demand made by multinational corporations all over the world.

Many of the tenant farming families moved to the cities and took industrial jobs, and just like the Americans, few of the younger generation consider entering the farming profession. Does the problem of aging farmers with few replacements in training make you wonder what will happen to our food system? Not many people are aware of the problem, and it’s just around the corner.

After some debate on whether to return to Spannocchia because of the weather, we decided to continue on to Siena.

To be continued…

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