30 June 2007.
How to begin to write a final blog entry? With a question, it seems. It has been five months since I arrived in Italy, and in a short while I will be back in Helsinki.
But a quick summary of what I’ve been doing lately. The weather has been warm, and some days really hot. That was perfect for a day at the beach. I went to Pisa for a couple of days to visit a friend who took me for a tour of the city for one day and to the beach the second. Great fun was had and surprisingly little pale Finnish skin burnt.
A few days ago we walked the Czech girls to the station. Of the people who stayed for the whole spring, they are the first ones to leave. It’s emotional, but all of us seem to have something to which to look forward. And in a way Florence is an easy place to leave. Even though you may become used to living here, it does not feel like a real city, a place to call home.
And in some ways, even though I never thought I would say it, I miss being in Helsinki. It’s not that I think it is so much better than any other city in the world, but that I am so accustomed to living there. I cannot live without the good things in Helsinki, and I think I can learn to live with the unpleasant things. And I have a feeling that Helsinki, unlike Florence, is only going to get better in the future.
So, insomma, what do I think about my time here? There’s not much to say about my studies, but I am very happy to have come and to have seen what it’s like to live in an Italian city. Yet, as must be obvious by now, it does not make me sad to leave. I will return to Italy, perhaps eventually to live here. But I see many things differently from the way I saw them five months ago, and I know where I need to be right now. Is it too pretentious to describe this as a minor rebirth, un piccolo rinascimento?
17 June 2007.
After a few hours in the train, the scenes from the train windows told me that I had arrived in another Italy: the Tuscan hills had changed into the endless rice fields of Piedmont. And Turin is different from Florence. They say that the capital of Piedmont is the most French city in Italy—or, scherzando, the most Italian city in France—but my first impressions were that this city is much more Italian than the Florence populated by foreigners.
It is however true that the Italy of Turin is not the stereotypical kind of Italy. How could it be, when the most important museum is the Egypt Museum? The feeling I get is that while the Florentine looks inward and lives off being a Florentine, the Torinese instead looks forward and makes a living doing something meaningful. Turin is not occupied being itself: it is itself being occupied with something outside itself. And as a philosophy of life, the Torinese way of thinking seems more valid.
As I had only a couple of days to explore the city, I got only a superficial glance on most of the things. Some of my favorite things were the impressive Egypt Museum, the pleasant early nightlife at the Murazzi by the river Po, and finally the people. Everyone I met and talked to in Turin treated me like a human being instead of a clueless tourist to be duped.
In addition to staying at the capital of Piedmont, my friend invited me for a little stroll in the town of Bra, the birthplace of the Slow Food movement. Other than giving the locals a little material to gossip about for the next few days—Bra seems almost small enough to allow everyone to know everyone—we went to check out the enoteche to add to my collection of bottles to bring home with me.
One of the last things I did in Turin was to admire the views from the Mole, a spectacular building now housing the National Film Museum.
12 June 2007.
The atmosphere in our commune of seven Erasmus students has changed during the last few weeks. One reason for this is that it is the time for final exams. Another one is that we don’t have many weeks left together. But instead of feeling sad or stressed out, we are mostly in good spirits. And what’s important is that lately we seem friends rather than a bunch of strangers sharing an apartment in this little Renaissance town.
The Muse gig at the Piazzale Michelangelo was good, if a bit predictable. They have a reputation for being a good live band, but even though they played well, the live performances of their songs are not that different from the ones on CD. Although I would have liked to hear something a bit more creative, the atmosphere was great, thanks in part to the cool stage lighting.
I am finally going to Turin this week. I don’t really know what to expect, other than a slice of normalcy in comparison to the craziness of Florence. From what I’ve read it seems that Turin has a lot of interesting things to see and do, but that tourists for some reason haven’t found the city yet. Maybe the situation has changed after the 2006 Olympics.
28 May 2007.
This Sunday our group of five Erasmus students crammed themselves into a rental car and headed to Greve. It’s a little town in the region of Chianti Classico, the heart of one of the most famous wine regions in the world. The reason for the trip was the event of Cantine aperte, a day of free wine tasting at estates throughout Italy. Not all wineries participate, but even so there was a lot to choose from.
We had made a plan beforehand, but it proved to be more convenient to just keep our eyes open and visit any participating estates. The first one we found by accident was Villa S. Andrea. The wines were not fantastic, but this small operation was a nice place to start our tasting. After leaving S. Andrea we also passed by the legendary Tignanello estate, which would have been really interesting to visit had it been open.
By this time it was obvious that it would rain soon. And as we reached the next destination, Castelli di Grevepesa, there was already a bit of rain. The wines here were good (in particular the Clemente VII Riserva 2003), and almost all of us left with something to bring home. The ragazzi serving the wine were really friendly as well, and the tasty Tuscan snacks kept us going for the rest of the day.
Nearer to Greve there were two wineries close to each other, Castello di Verrazzano and Villa Calcinaia. Approaching the first one we were hit by a hailstorm of all things. Fortunately it didn’t last long, but I was glad that we had a car (my original plan was to rent a bike). Verrazzano however was a big disappointment, full of people and the staff not wanting to let us taste the wines before taking the tour (that would only begin after two hours of waiting). One of us managed however to get a glass of this terribly tannic stuff, and after a sip we agreed it was time to move on.
To get to Villa Calcinaia we had to push open a gate that was half closed, and to scare off a pheasant blocking the road. The wines were okay but not very interesting. More fun was the little tour of the winery, guided by a pipe-smoking, tipsy gentleman.
Finally, after passing through the town of Greve in Chianti we took a beautiful country road to go to the last and the most beautiful estate of the trip, Castello di Querceto. Vini d’Italia 2007, the Bible of Italian wine, had praised two of their Chianti Classico Riservas, and they were excellent. (One in fact was so good that they didn’t have any bottles to sell anymore.) In addition to these traditional wines they make a few more “international” blends, and I liked especially the unusual Querciolaia with Sangiovese and Cabernet.
All in all this was some of the best time I’ve had here, and we’re considering doing it again. It was fun to see first hand the diversity among the producers. Some look like small families with wine as a hobby, some are big industrial factories, some have people who love nothing more than to talk wine and some have people who take it easy—because after all this is just juice.
23 May 2007.
On Tuesday I went to visit a wine estate for a tour and a tasting. The destination was the region of Chianti Rufina and the Selvapiana estate to be exact. The plan was to go by train to Pontassieve and to walk to the estate and back. In retrospect this was a stupid decision, especially considering that I didn’t have a map. The way there was a bit difficult, as these country roads obviously have no sidewalks. I was a bit afraid of the trucks zooming by, but I was not going to let my fear stand between me and my wine.
Above all there was this tunnel I wouldn’t have dared to enter if it wasn’t for the advice of a gentleman who I approached to ask for directions. He was the first person I’ve met here in Italy with the stereotypical countryside dweller’s knack for storytelling. It was not enough for me to know the way to Selvapiana, but instead I needed to know about the other wine estates in the area as well, and also where the best wine of the region comes from (according to him it is from Selvapiana). It’s refreshing to know that just twenty minutes by train from Florence and its poseurs there are people like this.
Selvapiana itself was cool. It’s not a huge estate, which means there aren’t loads of visitors, which in turn means I got a private tour and tasting. Of all the Chianti subregions Rufina is perhaps the most interesting. It’s the smallest, and although the quality of the wines is apparently of equal level compared to Chianti Classico, Rufina remains a bit in the shadow of the Classico. For me this is just an added bonus because I always like to support the underdog. The wines themselves really are good, however.
Special thanks to Fabiola, who not only gave me the tour and taught me many new things about wine, but also gave me a ride back to the train station. Grazie!
I am Timo Laine, a Helsinki philosophy student. This is a story of me spending a spring in Florence, Tuscany, Italy on a student exchange at the Università degli Studi di Firenze.
My philosophical interests range from Machiavelli and Renaissance philosophy to ethics and political philosophy in general, and to metaphilosophy. But what I want most is to improve my command of the Italian language.