By now, the persimmon trees have lost their leaves, so the branches, covered in hundreds of round, orange-red fruits, stand out against the often-grey sky. The grapes and olives are harvested, but it’s too early to start pruning vines or trees. Leeks and fennel grow, without much attention, in the vegetable garden. We’ve eaten, for the time being, enough grilled mushrooms, mushroom pasta and mushroom risotto. It has started to rain, and it is the time of year when the thick-walled farmhouses feel colder than the scirrocco-driven dampness outside, so we come in, light the fire, drink tea and play briscola.
On weekend mornings, we hear the dogs and gunshots of the hunters in the fields and woods around us. A friend brings me a piece of boar, which another friend makes into sausage and salami for us to hang in the cellar and eat this winter. Someone else brings chestnuts to a dinner party, and we sit up late around the fire with a good excuse to drink lots of wine. The ash of the fires and the dogs’ now always-muddy feet are reason enough to ease the housekeeping standards.
All Saint’s Day seems to mark the end of the tourist season in Tuscany, and the Sienese are now more visible, as if they’d taken back their home. One hears mostly Italian walking Siena’s hilly “via”s. Rain puddles form on the worn slabs of stones called “lasts” with which Siena’s streets are paved, forming a mosaic of reflections of the buildings above, an especially apt metaphor in this old, closed society. At the first hint of cold (anything below 50 degrees), fur or fur-trimmed coats are donned, also by men, for the evening stroll on the corso, and the old folks start to talk about how much colder the winters were when they were young.
I used to get nostalgic for Thanksgiving around this time, but fifteen years ago, it was impossible to find cranberries, sweet potatoes, pecans or canned pumpkin puree, so I didn’t even try to celebrate, and to this day the butchers smile and shake their heads if ever I ask about getting a goose, the roast that was the center of my childhood Thanksgivings. A neighbor of mine was famous for her Thanksgiving party, but attending one year, I realized, surprisingly, that it was not about the food, as tasty as she had made it. I missed the talk of football and Thansgivings past, the sharing of the cooking and comparing of recipes, Gram’s maroon-and-gold trimmed Lenox, the punch bowl of whiskey sours and the parade on TV. In the past two or three years, Halloween has emerged as a popular new holiday among the Italians, but I doubt Thanksgiving will follow suit. The meal with the extended family takes
place so often anyway!
Instead, we have the Feast of Sant’Ansano (the patron saint of Siena) on December 1st, for which schools will be closed. December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is a holiday too, and this year it makes for a four day weekend. Then there’s December 13th, the Feast of Santa Lucia, marked by the blessing of the eyes and an open air market selling painted ceramic bells. We gather together, just not over the same things.
Except for my neighbor, for years, I didn’t know any Americans here at all. I had been warned that once I found the ex-pat crowd, I’d never meet Italians. I needn’t have worried: not working, and living in a secluded hamlet with my husband, daughter, in-laws, horses and dogs, I hardly met anyone at all. For my first four or five years here, the plumber and the electrician were my contacts with the outside world for eight months at a time, until French, English and German friends and my family descended in summer, and we had the house parties I dreamt of all year.
Now there’s an active group of Americans, lead by two dynamic young women, one a former New York banker, the other the wife of a Novartis manager. They are pretty and well-dressed, out-going, warm and un-self-conscious. They’re active in charity work, they put their kids to bed early, get babysitters and go out, they travel and read and never talk about money—refreshingly American all that. They throw parties for American holidays, and Thanksgiving is no exception: tonight is Tuscan-American tapas at a cool new wine bar in town. Saturday there’s a dinner for forty—at a restaurant. Who would ever want to cook?