Cortona is a typical small Tuscan hill town of picturesque antiquity. Melissa visited briefly years ago, and since then, it got on the tourist map by being the setting for the book and movie “Under the Tuscan Sun.” The hills behind Cortona are green and rolling and look a bit like the Shenandoahs or the Berkshires (but with more red poppies in bloom). Big and tree-covered, they’re not at all the usual image of Tuscany: low hills dotted with farms and olive trees.
We had the good fortune, through HelpExchange, to spend 10 days on a small farm in the hills near Cortona, with a nice Australian woman, her two impish young sons, a flock of goats, four chickens, a dog, and a very tiny kitten. All that, and cuckoos too.
I (Chris) didn’t know until I got to Italy that there really are birds that sound like cuckoo clocks. It stands to reason that the clocks are based on something, but I never thought about it. So the first time I heard “cuckoo, cuckoo,” I assumed it was coming from a clock in a nearby house. Then I glanced at my watch: 7:20 p.m. Not a usual clock-striking time. Only then, as the sound continued, did it dawn on me that a genuine bird was responsible. I still haven’t seen a cuckoo (I don’t think), but I’ve heard plenty of them.
Also chickens. At the Cortona farm, the rooster crowed loudly under our window every morning starting around 6 o’clock. And lest we be tempted to nap at any point, he continued the performance at intervals throughout the day. I’m convinced that most roosters are stewed or roasted just to shut them up.
We were expecting to do chores on the farm, and we did (stacking firewood, raking hay, hoeing new beds in the garden). We weren’t expecting to bounce. But on the shady gravel terrace next to the outdoor dining table is a trampoline, and a favorite after-school pastime of 7-year-old Thomas and 5-year-old Elliott is jumping as high as they can. As adopted playmates, we were cajoled to join them often, when we weren’t building things with legos, drawing pictures, or running around the farm pretending to be Power Rangers (Chris was the yellow one, and Melissa the blue).
We had a good time at the farm, ate well, and had copious hot water for showers (things we’ve learned not to take for granted at HelpExchange jobs). We enjoyed seeing the baby goats (including one newborn) and Cesarino, the young kitten. We also took a couple of daytrips into Cortona and the nearby towns of Perugia and Arezzo (interesting but underrated places).
But the ominously warming weather and the steady succession of critters that invaded our little guest room—ants, earwigs, spiders, and the occasional inch-long scorpion—meant that when our agreed-upon time was up, we were ready to go. Maybe one of these days, we’ll find a spot somewhere that we can’t bear to leave. But so far, the impulse to see what’s around the next corner keeps us happily going.