Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cortona, Italy

Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun drew us to Cortona, Italy, ten years ago. We took a train from Florence to Arezzo then hopped a bus to discover what would be one of our favorite cities in Italy and two of our favorite Italians. There was only one other person on the bus. Andreina Giunchi of Arezzo began talking to us in Italian. She invited us to stop by her husband's art exhibit in Cortona. We followed her to what would flourish into one of the greatest friendships of our lives.

We were immediately impressed with the works of Emilio Giunchi. One of Italy's renowned artists, Emilio, who goes under the name Zenone, captures Tuscany as no other artist can. We loved his work and bought our first Zenone. Today our home has about 16 Zenone works.

Emilio knew that day that we yearned to get a glimpse of Mayes's now famous Bramasole. Emilio took us to a Cortona bar to get directions. A group of Italian women sipping their afternoon expresso yelled to the waiter, "Get the telephone book. We will call her so you can meet her." I said that was not what Americans would do. We are a private people. However, in Italy everyone is family. They paid no heed. As one of the women's fingers read the telephone book, another woman entered the bar. She quickly learned what tables of Cortona residences were doing. "Oh, I just took Frances Mayes to the airport. She has to return to the United States to attend a wedding." We finally got the directions to Bramasole and got our first glimpse of the home Mayes describes in her bestseller.

Some months later we did get to meet Mayes, a former San Francisco State English professor, at a Pasadena book signing. I told her about our Cortona adventure and our first look at her Italian home. She scribbled her email on a piece of paper and said to keep in touch. Unfortunately, that paper vanished, but we continue to travel to Cortona and we take morning walks where we pass Bramasole.

Since our first meeting, Andreina and Emilio have introduced us to the beauty of Italy. We have spent vacations together in Troppea, Ponza and Rimini as well as Rome, where Andreina arranged for us to be invited to special ceremonies with Pope John Paul II. And I have spent most of my birthdays the past few years at their home. We returned to Cortona this past summer on a weekend break from teaching to see another Zenone Cortona exhibit! We returned many times while working in Florence and, as usual, spent our last day at their home. Andreina, by the way, is the best cook in Italy.

They finally came to America two years ago, where Emilio had his first international showing at our home. The 15 paintings he brought sold out. We are hoping for a second international showing in Palm Desert soon.

It goes to show that you never know whom you will meet in a day.

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