Escape from Certaldo

Telling Leonardo about our plan to go visit Carina in Radda wasn’t bad at all actually. He was surprised that we wanted to leave for a day.

(Though I have no idea why this would shock him.)

But he helps us to arrange for public transport which is nice.

So on Saturday night after work we head to the train station.

Well, first we all wash our hair. Which is worth mentioning because there is no warm water at Leo’s or in his guesthouse. And it may be Italy but it is still November and not exactly cold shower weather. Jennifer and I have developed the routine of doing a seven minute super intense exercise routine immediately after work in order to get hot enough to handle that ice cold water. Even then I can only take it for so long. I usually pick a different area of the body to really scrub down each time. Then I dry off, put on my thermals and coat and sit under the covers for at least half an hour before brushing my teeth.
Both Jennifer and I have not yet gotten the courage to stick our head under the water. I have been putting it off for only four days but for Jenn it has been seven. We resolve to wash our hair before we get on that train.


I try thinking “hot thoughts”

Turn on the water.

“Hot coco.”

I try to imagine sipping a cup of burn-your-mouth hot a fire. Splash some water on to my head.

Tomato soup.. Florida..Sunburns.

Just pretend like your jumping into a pool on a hot summer day, Rachel.

I suds up my hair and take a deep breath.

Brad Pitt!”

Surprisingly it doesn’t feel that cold once you have been under there for a minute.

And now I have fresh clean hair!

Having clean hair and getting to wear a skirt? I feel like a superstar. I may even put on some makeup today.. I literally get a post shower high. I want to whip this clean hair back and forth all over Radda just to show it off.. Watch out Italy!

I mean I haven’t shaved my legs in god knows how long (and my clothes haven’t been washed in awhile) but at least I’m clean. Plus, let’s be real: that’s what tights are for.

The train ride isn’t too long and as soon as we arrive in Siena we get a slice of pizza. It’s the first hot meal I have had since Rome. Plus can one ever really get sick of pizza?

Then we get on a bus after buying tickets from the driver who fumbles around a lot and gives us tickets out of his pocket that date back to 2013 for €8. Jennifer says she thinks we just got scammed. Emam says he thinks the driver is a little drunk. I believe both of them. Especially after he runs two red lights and stops in the middle of the road to text. I think I even saw him flip a pedestrian off at one point, but it was dark so I’ll never know for sure.
We arrive in Radda and Carina is waiting for us at the stop. Emam and Jenn know her as they all worked together on the first olive farm but this is my first time meeting her. She is soft spoken for an Italian and barely barely speaks English. (I think she is really excited to have us for language practice actually as she is taking a weekly English class.)

We eat at a near by family owned pizza place and it is the best pizza I have ever eaten.

It is probably the best pizza I ever will eat.

It may be the best meal I will ever eat.

We talk about olives and life in general. Carina is as funny as she is kind and after we eat we walk to her house nearby and have limoncello on her couch. She talks about philosophy and her life. She had two sons. One of her sons died very young not long ago and now her other son lives with her ex-husband nearby. He is eight years old. She has both of their pictures all over her large apartment. There is a sort of ever present mild pain and wisdom in her voice when she speaks of them.

That night Jenn and I share a large comfy clean bed. We almost can’t fall asleep because we are so giddy to be here. Carina’s apartment is traditionally heated by a fireplace with vents leading to all the rooms. In the morning I awake to the mild smoky smell of the heat drifting through our bedroom vent. It is so nice. Carina says it can be annoying because it stains the walls black around the vents. I still think it is nice.

We have a typical European breakfast: fresh bread, homemade jam (fig this time), and espresso. Then Carina gives us a walking tour of Radda.

Which is beautiful, of course. No matter how awful of a day we may have in Tuscany, the beauty of the region cannot be tainted.

Then Carina takes us to a nearby midevil Tuscan village giving us the history of everything we pass. She knows her area very well.

After a lot of walking and picture taking we head back towards her home. She tells us that there is a Chianti wine museum near her house which is closed for the off season. Her close friend runs it and has agreed to give us a private tour and tasting.

Yes please!

The museum is really nice and really interesting. There is a room with soil samples from different Chianti regions and basic explanation of the process. There is a room with glass jars filled with different scents. ( I still don’t know how they managed to bottle scents, but it was really cool.)
We would close our eyes and smell fresh tabacco, floral, or fruit and then sip our wine to better taste each element. There was a color room where you would hold your wine up to light and compare it to a color scale on the wall to identify its age and type. There was a room full of mirrors with projected areal views of Chianti playing all around you. Basically it was really fancy and really fun.
After the tour we have more espresso and the man gives Carina a nice bottle of Chianti Classico to take with us. We drink this wine in Carina’s apartment and eat a thick traditional Italian soup that I really want to learn how to make. It is almost four and we need to make sure we get back to Certaldo before Leo goes to bed so Carina drives us all the way to Siena. The rolling hills of Tuscany are undeniably beautiful, but riding up and down and around those hills is really nauseating. And I am one to get car sick.
Once we are in Siena we all feel nauseous, but also really grateful for our “holiday” in Radda.
We do the cheek-kiss-thing that I somehow still haven’t mastered and buy our train tickets back to Certaldo.


We have a few hours until the train leaves so we walk around Siena and get chocolattes in the city center which is really fun. We joke and laugh uncontrollably. I think Jenn, Emam, and I would be friends even if we weren’t traveling.

Realizing this is a chance to control our own destiny, we buy rice, veggies, peanut butter, and other ingredients to make our own hot meal tomorrow night. Emam had talked about missing food from home, so we plan to make a traditional Gambian peanut butter sauce.

Which sounds really good because: peanut butter is really good with everything. I have actually challenged people before to name one thing that isn’t good with peanut butter. Maybe not straight but in a sauce or something, you can always make it work for you.
There is a festive Sunday market in Certaldo where we listen to live music, eat pasta, and buy tiny gourmet chocolates for €1.

We are really tired when Leo finally arrives (late) to pick us up. He parks the car and gets out. “We go to bar? We go dancing?” Nobody wants to hangout with you Leo. I think he knows that we are unhappy because he has made us an apple cake at home. Which we eat after we sort through three crates of olives to save the big ones for eating.
“Why are you so quiet?” He asks.

Apple cake just doesn’t make up for the way you treat us, Leo.

We do not say this. I wish I could but Emam is very non confrontational and Jenn promised herself that she would stick to her agreed time here for self strengthening reasons. I do not want to confront Leo on my own.. It won’t hold as much weight, and he is so abrasive he intimidates me.

Emam is only here until he gets his papers settled and can leave for Germany. He finds out the next night that they are settled.
That means that he will leave on Tuesday. Jennifer will leave Wednesday. Even Maria is staying at her daughter’s apartment the upcoming week to visit her grandchild.

I will be alone

with Leonardo

for a whole week.

Jennifer offers for me to come with her to Florence and stay in her AirBNB that she has booked. I don’t need much convincing.


The next day Emam leaves, and Leo and I load the truck with as many crates of olives as we can and drive to the Mill. Loading and unloading the truck isn’t fun, but the mill is really interesting and I learn all about the process of making organic extra virgin olive oil.

That night as Leo asks Jenn what time she wants to leave the next day, I tell Leonardo that I will be going to.
“I just really don’t want to be here alone.” I tell him as that is the kindest explanation I can think of.
“Maybe next workawayer will be a boy for you? You don’t know. I worry for you. Breaking arrangement like this. It is no way to live your life. Such disrespect.”
I feel my face reddening.
“This isn’t what I was expecting when i agreed to come and..” I am trying so hard to be diplomatic.
He cuts me off, “Are you scared of hard work? I just do not know.. I cannot stop you to go and travel for fun, but you break agreement. You are dishonest. Maybe I turn people down so you can come and now I have nobody.”
I am not about to feel guilty and the ridiculousness of the situation is officially too much for me. I burst out into uncontrollable laughter. Which makes Jennifer laugh too.
Leo is annoyed, “It is not serious! You are not serious!”

But I am serious. I am seriously leaving.

The next day (probably as punishment) Jenn and I have to walk to the olive field and sew up the endless amount of holes in all the nets. We are not given lunch to eat. Having lost respect for Leo a long time ago, Jenn gets his van keys and drives us home for cheese, crackers, and wine. Because food is a basic human right! And the wine was left over from Radda so you know..
Leo has been making frequent trips to the lawyer all week for some mysterious reason and we assume the rest of the day is open for us to pack.

(We have worked our five hours after all)

But of course as soon as he returns, we drive out to a different olive field and we are each given a rusty machete. And for our last working day, Jenn and I machete the prickly underbrush under row upon row of olive trees.

Dinner that night is left over peanut butter sauce and cold (of course) quiche.

We don’t even eat breakfast the next morning. We are so ready to leave.

Leo gives Jenn a large bottle of olive oil made from our olives and thanks her for her hard work. She asks where mine is and he yells that I break agreement.. And I should ask for myself if I want oil that I don’t deserve.. and yadda yadda..

He does begrudgingly give me a bottle, which I’m super excited about because actual fresh olive oil is sooo different than what you buy in stores. It’s neon green unless exposed to sunlight and really bitter and I LOVE it.

The second Leo’s white van pulls away from the train station, Jenn and I look at each other with huge smiles.

We are free.

Florence here we come!

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