Time has a way of changing your world view, and the older I get, the more my perspective is challenged. There’s nothing like a visit with a young person to make you realize just how forcefully time marches on and how you can either march with it or be trampled by it.
We have hosted many guests over the past 15 months – 18 people in all in eight unique visits (one person came twice, but I only count her as one). The average age of our guests was lowered significantly with our last guest. At 24, she wasn’t the youngest guest we’ve had (that honor stays with our then eight-year-old granddaughter), but she was the youngest solo traveler we’ve had.
In what seems like a lifetime ago, I worked with an incredible woman for about ten years. Our jobs overlapped considerably and together we slayed many dragons. We had one of those relationships that complemented each other perfectly. We had similar work ethics, instincts, and capabilities. Where I fell short, she took up the slack, and vice versa. We didn’t compete, we worked as a very interdependent team and shared in successes and defeats. I’ve come to realize what a treasure this kind of relationship is – and how rare it is. She was more than ten years my junior, but we had a bond that transcended age.
During that time, she had two beautiful daughters. I saw her through both pregnancies and was among the first to see and hold the newborns. I watched as she balanced working a demanding job with parenting and wondered how she managed to do it all. But she did and the results are two remarkable young women poised to make their marks on the world.
Her oldest, Kehl, is living in France for a year teaching English in middle and high school. Kehl has a wanderlust, a fervent desire to travel and see different ways of life. She’s wise enough to know that this is the best time to take adventures and step outside of what’s comfortable before life manages to limit those opportunities. During her two week break from school, she came for an Italian visit.
Kehl is a woman after my own heart when it comes to food. She also knows that one of the best ways to experience a place is to eat like a local. We picked her up in Florence and stopped for lunch at an out of the way place we found a few months ago. Le Mura del Cassero is in Montevarchi, a town that is so off the tourist route that I doubt English has been heard here since World War II. She proved what an adventurous eater she is at that first meal. She ordered guanciale, which is pork cheek. This is one of my favorites, but I’m not sure how many fresh-faced American 24-year-olds would order this right out of the box. She loved it and cleaned her plate. Like I said, a woman after my own heart.
We took a day trip to Gubbio and had the most fantastic lunch ever. Compliments of Kehl’s parents (thanks Carey and Tim!), we had a wonderful lunch at Taverna del Lupo. We were planning on grabbing a quick pizza or panino, but asked for a suggestion from a ceramic store owner that Steve and I knew. He said if you want a true Gubbio experience, go to Taverna del Lupo. So off we went. He wasn’t kidding. This was a great restaurant in a great setting and we ate and drank to our heart’s content. Kehl and I had risotto with crispy guanciale (there it is again) and porcini mushrooms cooked in red wine. Paired with a lovely Sagrantino wine, this was a meal for the gods. And us.
We ended the visit with a trip to our favorite restaurant in Anghiari, Cantina Granduca. I’ve talked about this restaurant many times and we always try to take our guests there. I was eating light that night so only had sliced steak and roasted potatoes (what kind of world is it where this is considered a light meal?), but Kehl had the rabbit. People swoon over this dish and everyone gobbles it up. Kehl was no exception.
Gubbio is one of my favorite cities. We’ve tried to go there with some of our other guests, but there was never enough time. This time we made it and had a lovely afternoon walking around this medieval town and taking the funicular up to the top of the mountain for killer views.
We went to Poppi one day and had one of the strangest days ever. Poppi is in the Casentino area which is known all over Italy for its wonderful food products, nature, and castles. We toured the castle, had a mediocre lunch at the only restaurant open in the city center, and saw a man sunbathing on a park bench who should never be allowed to take his shirt off in public. We also met a couple of American women, one of whom lives in Florence, the other visiting from Atlanta (of all places). We climbed the bell tower of the castle and happened to be up there when the bell chimed. It was loud – very loud. We saw the sunbathing man again as we were driving out of town, this time fully clothed and looking somewhat normal. Clothes definitely make the man in this case. We stopped at the ancient San Pietro in Romena church, where Kehl was accosted by a friendly, but large, dog, and we heard someone screaming as if they were trapped underneath a large piece of machinery – or screaming at the person who trapped them there. On the way home, we got stuck in a traffic jam due to road construction and sat stock still on the road for about 45 minutes. Like I said, one of the strangest days ever.
Kehl wanted to do a wine tasting, so we contacted our friend Andrea who does tastings at Agricola Fabbriche Palma winery near Lucignano. Andrea does an excellent job of explaining the wine making process while giving a guided tour of the estate. Then he takes you to a beautiful tasting room where he serves typical Tuscan meats, cheeses, porchetta, and bruschetta. He explains the wines and how they pair with the food and why Tuscans drink Chianti with their meals. It’s a lovely, educational, and stomach filling experience. The day we went it was foggy so we really couldn’t see the views that are so incredible. By the time we finished the tasting, the fog had lifted some, so we got to see a little of it. I can’t say enough good things about this experience and if you ever find yourself in this part of Tuscany, you should definitely schedule a tour.
Being with Kehl was such a unique experience for me. She is so much like her mother that it confuses my somewhat addled mind. Her mannerisms, her expressions, her sense of humor, her sense of style – all these things are from her mother. I think if you’re around someone a lot, you don’t see these things. But I haven’t seen Kehl since she was a child and they are so dramatic to me. I alternated between seeing a clone of her mother and seeing an independent and adventurous young woman who has the same bright eyes she had as a child. That ghost of a child brushed against me sometimes and I had to remind myself that she was gone and replaced by this woman.
Years stack up behind us as we make our way through life and sometimes we browse through them, not remembering exact numbers (was it 1993 or 1996?) but remembering the events that shaped them. If we allow ourselves to look ahead, we see a world dominated by strong, young people like Kehl. We see how easily things come to them that are difficult for us. Not just things like sitting on the floor and getting up in one fluid motion, but things like constant and immediate communication all done from the palm of your hand. Generations always take what they inherited and improve upon it. Or at least, that’s what we hope happens.
Having this visit with Kehl reminded us that the world is in good hands. And that’s a good thing because the world is becoming more complicated than ever. As she continues on her journey, I hope Kehl never loses that wanderlust that so defines her. It’s her spirit and her spirit is fearless. And that’s what we need leading us into the next act of this thing we call life.