A few days before Ana and I wandered into this little used-book shop in Venice. We almost went past, lingering for a moment over the titles in the window. But I was drawn to music playing inside and, as a collector of music, just couldn’t help myself. The song was dark and mysterious, with a sort of pained sexuality that seemed to fit my visions and musings of carnival in Venice, with the masks, the shadowy and sultry anonymity, of dark capes and lavish costumes such as we’d seen in those elegant and exclusive narrow alley shops.
The shop keeper, a tall and friendly sort was dressed in an obligatory baggy and un-ironed off-white dress shirt, the apparent uniform of used bookstore clerks and computer geeks around the globe. His English was decent and we had a good conversation regarding the local music scene. The song I’d heard was a local artist named Gerardo Balestrieri. And just by coincidence, the fellow had some of his CDs! And they were for sale!
This really isn’t about Balestrieri, but that’s what we were playing in the car as we left the hectic traffic pace of Empoli for the back roads of Tuscany, ambling in the direction, but not specifically heading to the tiny hilltop town of Vinci, the place where Leonardo d’Vinci had grown up. Truth be told, as artists, Ana and I looked forward to this part of the trip far more than Florence. This was the chance to touch stones, to walk in the shade of buildings, to see the hills and taste the scents of air that inspired the great artist and inventor.
We angled West by northwest, following the Via Pietramarina. It was a scenic enough road, but still far too fast for out liking, and not nearly rural enough. We love road trips, but more than that we love the discovery and randomness of getting off the bigger roads, picking some random side road and teasing our chances of getting hopelessly lost. The very next road we came to fit the bill perfectly. Barely able to handle more than one vehicle at a time, the Via Amerini we hoped would take us to Vinci the back and much less travelled way. We didn’t know, for sure, and GPS or maps simply were cheating in this game.
“Do you have any idea where you are going?’ asked Ana, in sort of an off-hand way.
“Nope,” I replied simply, dropping the gear into place as we climbed a steep and gently curving stretch of road. “Does it matter?”
She didn’t answer, instead gasping suddenly at a breathtaking view across poppy fields and olive orchards laid across deep sweeping valleys spotted with clusters deep green cyprus. The red-tiled rooftops of small farms, the steeples that marked distant hilltop towns and villages, the sunbleached plaster walls all conspired beneath the rich cerulean sky to erase the pale distinctions of human time and history.
Pulling carefully off to the soft grassy shoulder we stepped out and drew in the scene, as if we were drawing in some Renaissance painting. Indeed, the light and timelessness of all this was as inspiring and breathlessly enchanting as it was centuries ago. Standing there, looking upon this strange but oddly familiar landscape, I wondered if the passion those earlier artists had imbued in their landscapes had sufficed in adding Tuscany to our collective memories. And maybe that was the appeal, in part, and maybe the true wonder of art, is that it makes us all feel in such moments as if we have come home, if for the first time and only if once in a lifetime. Sometimes it takes getting a bit lost to truly find oneself again.