Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A hike in the Chianti countryside

It seems from a recent growth in my blog audience, readers like the seduction angle or stories about breasts.  So here is a tame, though I hope humorous, extract from my yet to be published manuscript Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues.  
Naturally ladies and gentlemen I retain full copyright.

After packing a picnic this morning I set off for a hike in the Chianti countryside.  A few key roads are un-signposted, so I do a little back-tracking before arriving at my chosen hilltop village close to 10am.  Immediately I fall in love with Volpaia’s quaintness - the few people around making it feel like a real village rather than one overdressed for tourists.  I wander about taking photos of the Castello famous for good wine, so it isn’t until 10.30am that I set out on my walk. 

Clouds overhead promise rain so I carry a light jacket and, as always when hiking, plenty of water.  By midday the sky has cleared and temperatures climb gradually to over 30 degrees. The map for the walk, provided by Sylvia in the Radda Tourist Office, is simple but useful.  However it’s with some reluctance I find myself walking down, down, down from the Castello into the valley, well aware that means having to climb back up.  I pass orchard altars, as you do: the first dedicated to Mary of the Seven Sorrows (obvious from the multiple daggers in her heart); another to Santa Caterina (Siena’s revered patron).  I pass a closed church and, had it not been, I might have curled up on a seat and gone to sleep, such is the lethargy induced by rising heat. 

One trail takes me into thick bush where large numbers of insects are impervious to my Bushman’s Repellant.  Resorting to using my hat like a giant fly-swat, I feel rather like Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen but without Bogart to protect me.  When the time comes to climb a hill and get out of the swamp I am exceptionally pleased, if a little lost.  Two streams I am supposed to cross never materialize so I figure they must have evaporated, and with only a couple more mistakes I find the other principal landmarks, avoid the zap of electric fences, and follow the slope of many a vineyard unable to avoid the temptation to nibble on the grapes.  Finally I arrive back at the car, ravenous and in need of water.  Despite my exhaustion I am pleased to have done the walk.  Not only do I need the exercise but it’s given me more time than driving allows to truly absorb my surroundings.

I devour a packed-lunch, wishing I’d put butter on the characteristically dry Italian bread.  Then in an effort to cool off, I wipe myself all over with the Wet-Ones my clever mum dropped into my suitcase weeks prior.  I am preparing to go in search of a glass of Chianti Classico when the strangest thing happens. 

A young man appears on the little terrace above where my car is parked, and starts speaking to me eagerly in Italian.  There is no-one else around.  Amongst the chat I recognize two key questions: are you solo?; and are you married?  I answer yes and no respectively, as I’ve done many times since arriving in Italy, smile and prepare to leave.  It is then he becomes intent upon getting his message across, and bobs down so he is closer to my eye level.  I think at first he is pointing to my diamond necklace, only to realize I haven’t put it on this morning.  I ask him to repeat himself but alas I can’t understand and shake my head saying scusi non capisco.  After a few moments he moves his hand toward my right side, appearing to mime the action of cupping my breast.  Do I imagine it?  I must have done.  So I give him another chance to explain, during which he mimes the same action reaching in a little closer.  Surely he isn’t suggesting he touch my breasts?  Surely not?! 

Now I should make the point that this young man isn’t aggressive.  Indeed he’s surprisingly polite given he appears to be asking something outrageous: his demonstrations stopping within a centimeter or two of actually touching me.  Nevertheless I stand dumbfounded - gobsmacked to use a phrase immortalized by script writers on soap operas - while he pleads with excited but melancholy eyes.  Eventually I snap out of it to reply decisively no, no, scusie, no grazie, and I shake my head and begin to move away.  Yet he continues pleading, this time with more gesticulation, and offering, as I understand, to pay me for the privilege.  Again I say no… no, no wondering how the hell I can explain that the suggestion of money makes it worse.  Then in an effort to make me reconsider the rejection, the young lad assures me with great passion and earnestness that he only wants to touch one breast – uno he says hopefully, pointing at the right one.  “What’s wrong with the left one?” I instantly think, appreciating in spite of my ego that the poor dear genuinely thinks moderation will help him close the deal.

Now at this point, it all seems far too surreal and I desperately need to laugh.  Yet I don’t think it will help if he hears me.  So for some ludicrous reason I apologize profusely for disappointing him and make as quick a get-away as possible; heading up the path and around the corner to the village where I laugh out loud for a good five minutes. 

I am still shaking my head and giggling when I meet personable Gabriele in the tasting room of Castello Volpaia.  I tell him the story but he doesn’t believe I am serious – clearly not admiring my breasts as much as the young lad.  Oh well, we can’t please everyone I muse and start laughing again.  Indeed I can barely believe it has happened myself.  My breasts are quite good I’m told - damn good for my age, if perkiness counts as much as size - but until I came to Italy it hadn’t occurred to me they were my best feature.  Yet to Italians, breasts seem to matter more than many characteristics and I’m finding that out more and more as time goes on.  Today, however, all I can think is “wow, if that guy is anything to go by, my friend Hayley could give up work for good if she moved to Italy”.

Jokes aside, the strange thing about this encounter is that it wasn’t particularly creepy:  surreal yes, definitely odd, but neither aggressive nor threatening.  There was an innocence about this chap - somewhere between seventeen and twenty I’d hazard a guess - born more of curiosity than perversion.  I guess seeing me on my own and unmarried… and hey, he checked that first so you can’t say he is without morals… he gave it his best shot.  When he couldn’t persuade me there was no mouthing-off or obstruction; unlike many blokes full of booze whose egos are battered by rejection.  So in the end all I can really think is “good luck to him”.  

Ah, you gotta love Italy.