Una Notte sotto le Stelle (‘An evening under the stars’)
On a warm August evening, in the heart of Tuscany, what could be better than a drink of wine and something to eat with some friends? Well, you could try having several glasses of wine and something to eat with all the residents of a small village! That’s just one of the activities organized by the Italian school I’m attending in Tuscany. They call it ‘An Evening under the Stars’; a chance to meet local people and taste local produce!
I was on an excursion organised by the school in Italy where I had come to do an Italian language course. The school is situated in the small town of San Giovanni Valdarno, between Florence and Arezzo. Getting there is easy. You can take one of the readily available cheap flights to Pisa, and then Florence is just an hour journey by coach or train (Terravision coach tickets can be booked in advance online, or are available when you arrive at Pisa airport). Then it is just a question of catching one of the frequent regional trains for the short transfer from Florence to San Giovanni, where you’ll be met by one of the school’s representatives. The great thing about the school is that you are still only a short distance from Florence (about 25 minutes by train), while at the same time you are in the heart of Tuscany. San Giovanni is a peaceful town where you can immerse yourself in the Italian way of life, away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities.
Excursions are organised to complement your language lessons. As well as visits to museums, there are also visits to vineyards and, as on this occasion, visits to local festivals when available. I arrived at the small, local town along with several other students and teachers from the school during a late, warm August evening. After paying a small entrance fee, we were each given a wine glass, which was hung around our necks in a small pouch.
The narrow street leading to the main piazza was full of people and there was a feeling of anticipation in the air as we began to pass the stalls which were set out along the side of the road. The local produce was free to try and we were all soon in the possession of a paper plate full of sausages, crostini and various other foods, which our teachers were only too willing to explain. The food was soon accompanied by a glass of wine: Red, white, rose; we would try them all in moderation before the end of the evening. In the main piazza there was a real festival atmosphere. Local people were sitting at their windows, watching the events of the evening. Soon there were music and street performances; dancing, singing and recitals. It was also a great opportunity to practice our Italian and it soon became apparent that a few small glasses of wine worked wonders for our language skills! Encouraged by our teachers, we were soon putting into practice all that we had learned in the classroom. At the end of the evening we all felt that we knew a lot more, not just about the language, but about the food, wine and traditions of a small town, so typical of the Tuscan countryside.
I had arrived in Tuscany during the summer of 2004, having booked a month’s course of Italian lessons at the school. I had been looking for a school where I could study the Italian language, before moving on to visit other parts of Italy. After one month of lessons, I decided to stay for another month. After that, I decided to stay for one more month. In the end, I stayed at the school for thirteen months! Not only did I find a great school, with great teachers, but I also made some great friends. Through the school, I discovered more about Italy, the Italian way of life and the history of Italy, than I could ever have done by myself. Even today, when I visit Italy for my holidays, it is impossible to resist the urge to return to the school to see old friends. And when I do, I find the same warm welcome that I found on my very first visit. I can’t wait to go back again……