My morning started at 7am as I left Assisi with my hiking map in hand and quickly got lost, having to get directions by playing charades with some old men in a garden (read 1st post).
I’m awesome at charades – and apparently so were the men in the garden – because I soon found the little hamlet I had been looking for and then had to decide if I was going to continue to wander about the mountainside looking for the elusive Path of Olives or just go back down to the main road. I chose to wander, and eventually realized that I was, indeed, on the Path of Olives (read 2nd post).
I continued on for a while, feeling like I was in some sort of fairy land. I had never seen olive trees – or, if I had, they hadn’t been as impressive as a single tree. There were fields and fields of them, no fences, no proprietary notices or gates. I could imagine that the same families had harvested these fields for generations and the boundaries were so deeply etched in their bones that they had no use of fences or signs. The dark, almost black bark of the olive tree is an enchanting contrast to it’s tiny silver leaves, making a cloud of fairy dust around the top of each slim trunk. There was no noise except birds chirping and a light rustle of leaves every now and again. I couldn’t make this shit up.
10:10am: And so I walked on, content.
10:15am: Two roads diverge in a wood…
10:16am: …and I took the one less traveled by…
10:30am: …and that has made all the difference.
I wouldn’t find out till later how special of a choice I had just made by taking the road through the groves instead of the one that veered right down the mountain.
10:45am: I decide I’ve probably walked pretty far from Assisi by this point and wouldn’t have much longer to go before I should cut down toward the main road for my 12:30pm winery tour, but I have some time yet so I perch myself on a rock in the middle of an olive grove to read my book (when traveling I always carry a book with me; you never know where you’ll get stuck! Like later on this very day when I was stuck in the Spello train station for three hours - read that post here. And not an e-reader! An honest-to-goodness old-book-smell book!).
11:15am: After picking some flowers growing wildly in the grove, I decide I it’s time to get on my way and that I should start to try to find the Sportoletti Winery.
As I climb down to the road out of the olive grove, I see an old man, probably around 80 years old (or older… who can tell at that age?), slowly coming towards me with a cane. Other than the men in the garden and the clerk in Viola, I’ve seen no one else all morning and I have no idea where this old man could’ve come from. He’s gotten fairly close to where I am as I hop the last pile of stone to get onto the road, so I smile and nod my head to him in greeting.
That seems to open the flood gates and he starts to try to talk to me in rapid Italian, even when I tell him I don’t understand. I can tell he’s getting a bit frustrated, so I try to tell him again (“try” being the operative word): “Sono americana. Non parlo italiano”. Suddenly another woman appears on the path (there must be a house nearby, or else rural Umbria has discovered teleportation). She walks up to us, clearly familiar with the old man, they exchange a few words and she first asks me if I’m French (in French). When she finds out I’m American she tells me – in English – that the man wants to know where I’m going. I tell her and the old man throws a hand to his forehead, “Sportoletti! No no no!” and gestures back the way I had come. The woman says, “He wants you to follow him”, then turns and continues down the road.
11:17am: I decide to follow the old man to see what he wants. He’s 85, what can he do?
11:20am: We’ve come about fifty feet down the path when the old man motions to something on the hillside, wanting me to climb up and get it. It’s a piece of asparagus, growing in the grass. To make him happy and so we can continue on to wherever it is we’re going, I put my foot on a rock to reach for the asparagus. I’m sure purely to help (yeah, right), the old man puts a hand on my butt to boost me up. I get the asparagus, give it to the old man and he mimes eating it. Yes, I know what it is. Can we go on now?
11:25am: Turns out he was leading me back to his Vespa. What 90 yr old man has a Vespa?! He pops his cane into a latch on the side and motions for me to get on behind him. Eh, what the hell?
11:30am: After a frightful ride down the mountain, he pulls up in front of the Sportoletti Winery. Thanking God I made it without falling off or being kidnapped, I get off the Vespa, yank down my skirt and primp my bouquet of flowers that had been a bit crushed as we catapulted down Mt Subasio. He kisses me on both cheeks and says something in Italian. I feel like its pointless reminding him I don’t speak Italian (95 yr olds have short memories, after all) so I smile and return the double-kiss, really very thankful for the ride. I probably would’ve walked all the way to Spello before realizing where I was!
The winery is silent on the outside but I locate what I think is the main door. The old man jets off as I walk in, almost an hour early.
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