About a year ago, before Nick or I had any idea of the bumpy road that would lay ahead of us, we decided it was time for our family to take a trip somewhere new. Our children were old enough to travel relatively well, and we were both itching to explore. After a bit of deliberation we settled on visiting Tuscany. Neither of us had ever been before, the language was close enough to Spanish that I felt confident I would be able to understand how to get around (even if I couldn’t always convey what I wanted to say) and we also knew that it would be easy to navigate around our daughter’s sesame allergy as it isn’t often used in Italian cuisine.We flew into Florence one evening, and two days later rented a car and drove south to Terre di Nano; which would be our home base to return from daytime excursions around Southern Tuscany.
Southern Tuscany is known for its food and its views. Full-bodied Brunello wine comes from Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano variety from Montepulciano, Pecorino cheese (both matured and fresh) can be smelled in the streets from the moment you step into the town of Pienza, and olive oil from Terre di Nano is some of the fruitiest I’ve ever tried- perfect when drizzled on ruby red, sweet tomatoes. The cured meats, the cheeses, the rich tomatoes; I’m quite honestly not sure if I’ve ever had so much naturally occurring MSG in my life, and I loved every minute of it.
The components of the dishes themselves were often times simple. As chef and host of Terre di Nano, Georgio said to me one afternoon, “There are no kept secrets here. We just use the best ingredients we can possibly grow.” And although the magnitude of just how good well-grown and cared for ingredients can taste, did surprise me, the idea itself was one I always knew was truth. I was however, surprised by something else entirely.
Despite the hours not being ones in which we were used to keeping (the girls were often up and out at dinner until 10:30 at night!), Italian culture is one of the most family friendly I have ever come across. From the moment we walked into any given restaurant or café, the girls were immediately wrapped in attention and love and care by complete strangers. I hadn’t realised just how unfriendly attitudes in the US and UK can be towards children and families until I saw one that really embraced children; making us feel welcome and comfortable where ever we went rather than on edge that we were defying societal expectations, in fear of our kids having the audacity act their age, sending us into restaurant exile.
We were allowed to be out in the world just like everyone else – and so were our girls! No apologising or hushing or trying take up as little space as possible because somehow we weren’t entitled to as much, or for as long as non-children-toting-adults. And as a result, our children rose to the occasion. They said grazie and por favore and smiled and sat and hugged and chatted to absolutely everyone. And every time they did it was met with genuine praise and admiration by those around them – as a parent I couldn’t have been prouder. Rather than creeping towards a dangling carrot for good behavior or a stern-faced reminder, they were a part of the culture and the atmosphere and were allowed to just be themselves: bright, sweet, bubbling, curious little people who were genuinely interested in excited to be there.
You know who else got to be themselves as a result? Us! Nick and I weren’t just parents, we were people. We were allowed to relax and have wine and eat without rushing because everyone was settled and happy. We didn’t have to be quick, or quiet, we could just BE. I had not realised just how much apologising I do on a regular basis for something that needs no apologies.
We all ate well, we slept well, and played well. We explored new places with ease and grace and the ability to go at our own pace. And yes, the kids still were kids; things got knocked over, spilled, they bumped into a few people, grew impatient and a some tears were shed along the way. But what a wonderful experience to eat beautiful food, grown with care, visit with warm and inviting new faces and landscapes, and be welcomed just for being ourselves, whatever version showed up that day. It was the holiday we needed it every way possible; not one in which we had to run away and escape, but one where we were met exactly where we were. No apologising, no pretending.
Thank you to the wonderful people we met along our travels who made this adventure such a respite. Grazie mille.