Last weekend Anghiari hosted a great celebration of the food of the area, called the Centigusto, or One Hundred Tastes. As part of the festivities, there was a nature walk through the forest and countryside around here. We joined our friend Rossano, who guides these walks, and three other people on a five mile tour through the countryside on a glorious Sunday morning.
We were the only non-Italians in the group. Rossano, who we have known for years, speaks English about the same as we speak Italian. We struggled through and the group was very patient working with us to help us understand, but there was a lot that we missed. Learning this language is my biggest frustration. There’s always one word that you don’t know that’s critical to what you’re trying to say and without that word you get blank stares.
We set out from the old city walls at 9:00 am Italian time (which means we left at about 9:30) and started down the road that Steve and I love to walk on. We call it tobacco road since it runs through tobacco fields. As we walked, Rossano pointed out things of note, both about the history of the area and about the landscape. We learned that the main gate to the city was the Porta Sant’Angelo, which actually has two gates. The interior one was the original and the outer one was added later when the city walls were reinforced. Hey, times were tough in the 1200s, what with enemies trying to invade you on a regular basis.
As we walked through the tobacco fields, I noticed Rossano stopping now and then to pick up rocks. I thought he must have a collection at home from all his walks. When we paused, he set the small black rocks he had collected on a larger rock and took a another large one and smashed them. Inside were layers of colors from the earth that had been encased in this black volcanic rock. He explained that the nearby Rognosi mountains were once volcanoes so these little time capsule rocks are all over the place.
There’s a little abandoned building that we pass on our walks through the tobacco fields that I’ve always wondered about. I wonder no more because now I know that it used to be a train station. There was a train that ran from Arezzo through Anghiari and then on to Gubbio. The main train station in Anghiari is abandoned, but has recently been restored. But this little station sits by the road that used to be train tracks and is all boarded up. I’m sure Rossano said why this station was here – after all, it’s so close to the main Anghiari station and is really out in the middle of nowhere, even today. But our interpretation skills being what they are, we didn’t get that part. We did get that during WWII the station was used to transport Yugoslavian prisoners of war to a concentration camp near Anghiari. We also got that during the war, the tracks were destroyed.
Soon our walk took us on a path we’d never been down. After walking down a white road through the tobacco fields for a while, we veered off on a foot path through the forest. There we saw a magical plant that legend has it was used by witches to make potions. I’m not sure what the potions were for, but apparently they burned it and used the ashes for something mysterious. We also saw wild thyme growing on the forest floor, right alongside the many cinghiale (wild boar) tracks. Many mushrooms as well, most not edible. We emerged from the forest and walked through a little farming community and heard the story of a man who was well-known for making up songs. He performed at weddings and other celebrations and would always help himself to much wine. One night as he was making his way home he stumbled and fell in the road. Being too drunk to get up, he decided to just sleep there for the night. During the night it snowed and he slept right through the whole thing, waking up with a blanket of snow over him.
As we made our way back to Anghiari, we were rewarded with the most wonderful views. Patchwork fields surrounded by rolling hills with fantastic fall color. And in the distance, the old city walls of Anghiari. Not only were we rewarded with killer views, but when we got back up to town, we all had a wonderful lunch of brustichino and shared a bottle of wine. We had just walked for three hours, so we were ready for it.
It’s a sure bet that we would never had taken this path on our own, but it opened up a new world for us. Learning about the place you live in makes you appreciate it on a deeper level. It becomes part of your soul. Things that I had seen and wondered about I now have an understanding of. It gave me a deeper bond with this place and piqued my curiosity about what else there is to learn. And I will always be on the lookout for those small black rocks that hold an entire ancient world inside them.