Death by Stick Shift: Day 06

For the last two years, I've had a reoccuring dream. I have just arrived in Florence, Italy with my parents in tow, and I can't recognize a single landmark. Highways in the sky suspended over modern buildings and massive tomato sculptures - sort of a 'paved paradise' situation which makes me cringe. Today's early morning bus boat through the Grand Canal next to a Grecian cruise ship was no big deal. Speaking with the train ticket seller in perfect Italian was cause for a mini 'cha-ching' motion. But to return to that city of concentrated culture and passion, one my heart would gladly withstand the greatest amount of hardship to be in, had a moment of a sweet release for me yet also one of over-waited deja-vu. My memory hardly lost a street corner over the past two longing years. The perfection of the moment also came with the realization that we had a perfect Tuscan villa to get to. It's cliche for a reason. But first we had to reach the driveway.

Stall...a little movement...stop sign...and stall...confusing street...hit a few pylons...a hideous/hilarious curse word or in the wrong way on a one way...stall...wrong turn...and finally, smoke billowing from under the hood of our 2009 Alfa Romeo. Dad's face grew as red as the Chianti of his dreams and his mouth became that of a sailor's. And when comedy or therapy couldn't help his 30 year rusty stick shift skills, he threw up his hands and flipped on the hazard lights.

Since Mom was busy burying her head in the backseat luggage, I very reluctantly got behind the wheel for the first time in a new country. Zooming past me were the weathered Florentine racers who enjoy testing your next move and leaving you to quiver in their dust. I was scared to the point of pre-scheduled vomitting and moments of terror that produced songs and humming from the depths of my most primal being.

When you can only expect failure from yourself but seem to slip by unharmed, it feels like pure joy while running through an active and unpredictable minefield. Once I escaped the pee-in-your-pants phase of Florentine traffic, I reached the organically lain backroads of Tuscany. Steadily crawling to each small town in second gear, I waited for the imminent, drunken fool to fly into my lane and send my Italian car flying into tree after olive tree. Foliage-covered death cliffs taunted me on one side throughout the country weave. But once I was no longer blocked in on all sides by Ferrari-red hot-blooded Kenevals, I began to enjoy my drive on the wild side. In fact, awe-inspiring views spread around us in 360•. I threatened the parents to encourage their enjoyment of the sights a-plenty because this drive, which was giving me crow's feet, needed to have some worthwhile benefit.

And with driving instructions only dictated from irrelevant starting points for us, the game plan was to use street signs and just smell our way there. After all that time searching on mapquest and identifying our little street on my phone map, it seemed like a do-able task, especially with the help of our palpable anticipation. Giorgio and Lizzi at a nearby bar had to ultimately steer us in the right direction after lending us a WC and our first Birra Morrettis.

Pure luck of our aimless wander and I stalled in front of Poggio al Pipi. It felt like the end of a relentless pilgrimmage, even though it included flying across the ocean, training and ferrying around Lake Como, and a €200 per night Venetian hotel from a National Lampoon movie. I'll skip over the obvious part about our patrons being gems with a darling bambino and a loveable little Dachshund. I'll also skip how perfect and authentic our villa turned out to be - surpassing the most lofty expectations with the charm of burning wood barbeques and 110 organically grown olive trees. I don't know how else to say, without using regurgitated and expected vocabulary, that whatever sense of Italy this place recalls, those moments are presently ours. I can only hope that the price we pay to live like a Tuscan allows us complete rights of every basil infused moment of this experience. I sauteed some vegetables as my parents chugged Italian beers and sopped up juicy olive oil with their crispy bread. I think the air of rural Tuscany brings out the full aromatic colors of garlic and basil.

Pages and pages scribed without a moment to rest my tired hand while others read up on their most recent Italian inquiries. And as I relish in the retrieval of my first (of many) obligatory foot massage, I can only believe we have interpreted the meanings of our own dolce vitas and lived them fully within these first few hours. Tuscany waits untainted and unaware we are here, and my laughable aspirations to run the gravel roads or imbibe the sweet, sun-ripened air of the morning still have an inch of possibility...mi scusi...a centimeter. Where's my Bella Tuscany book?