The photo below of the bottles of Brunello di Montalcino sparked a friendship not only with Marlane, but of the small Tuscan village of Radicondoli and it’s people including, Francesco, Clizia and especially Giovanna and Umberto. This chance meeting also reawakened inside me the importance of community, spending time together while enjoying excellent food, the fun of meeting new people and the “Zero Kilometer” food movement, which is so much more than just “Farm to Table” agriculture.
So how was a photo of some wine bottles responsible for this improbable friendship you might ask? As many of you know Matt Michaud is one of my best cycling and travel comrades . Matt has many outstanding talents including photography, on one of our trips to Tuscany Matt got some amazing shots of the beautiful landscapes and city scenes of Florence and Siena. Included were several excellent photos of perhaps Tuscany’s most sought after and famous wines, Brunello di Montalcino. There was one particular shot of wine bottles neatly lined and stacked on a shelf that appeared on the “world, wide web” where Marlane of Il Campo Cucina happened to browse upon. She contacted Matt about purchasing the photo for her newly designed website. In their conversation Matt explained to her how much he loved Tuscany and that she should get in touch with his friend Mark who was in Italy getting married and cycling. Various e-mails were exchanged between Matt, myself and Marlane and on July 4, 2010 Marlane and I arranged for us to meet in Radicondoli, a small hilltop village 35-50 km west of Siena (depends on which way you go). I decided to bike from Siena, departing at 9:00 am and planned to arrive in the village square of Radicondoli at 11:00 am sharp. The weather in Tuscany in July is sometimes very hot, and after biking for 2 hours to get to my destination, Bar Nazionale I was soaked in sweat, dripping sweat. As I entered the bar/coffee shop Marlane quickly recognized and greeted me in a friendly enough manner. . . a handshake. . . I think she would have hugged me, but she quickly responded with: “I think you need a shower”. We laughed and I told her that I brought along a change of clothes, as we had planned to have a day together visiting various places and people.
By noon we were off on a whirlwind tour, Marlane, her friend Giovanna and I traveling to various inns and Podera’s, exploring the possibilities of future collaboration of a cooking school and a cycling adventure group. We had a delightful lunch at a small family run restaurant, La Fornace with 12 of Marlane’s closest friends that featured about 8 courses/offerings, including vino rosso, vino santo and of course grappa, after 2 hours of eating and drinking I politely reminded Marlane that I had to bike back to Siena and I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to manage that in the condition I was in. Everyone laughed, including me as she calmly assured me that she would be driving me and my bicycle back to Siena!
The drive back to Siena via some old less traveled back roads was very lovely and scenic, passing by old farmsteads, sunflower fields and the famed “Cinta Senese”, the wild white pigs of tuscany. I couldn’t help but think to myself ; “what a great route for a bike ride”. Then my thoughts wandered about the great meal I just had and the pleasant folks I just dined with and shared more than just a meal. And now I was driving back to my adopted city of Siena with essentially a complete stranger I’d just met, a very friendly, intelligent, articulate and kind person, Marlane.
As I sat there staring out the window of the automobile and engaged in some light conversation, thoughts of John Dominic Crossan’s book I’d read several years back, “The Historical Jesus” reminded me of my day in Radicondoli. The idea of Jesus’ open commensality (the practice of eating together) kept running through my mind. This is what Crossan was talking about. This was the key strategy to Jesus’ entire philosophy – camaraderie, openness, absence of judgment and societal barriers, unconditional acceptance, genuine togetherness, companionable discourse. And what better way to achieve these things than to sit down and eat a good meal together? It’s so simple it’s silly, and yet it’s highly profound. The way to put this philosophy into practice, is the same way that Jesus himself did it – through open commensality. Sharing a meal, sharing your time, sharing your attention.