The rain that had dogged us for so much of Florence followed us out of the city on Saturday, as we picked up our rental car and drove into Tuscany. We’d made reservations at an olive oil resort near a small town called Vicchio, about an hour northeast of Florence. The drive alone charmed the pants off of us; every hill we crested afforded us these unbelievable views of the Tuscan countryside, and all the mental images those two words conjure up are spot on or, if possible, better. Even overcast, there’s no denying the beauty of it.
But I’ll level with you: I hate nature. I can’t take it. I need concrete, and skyscrapers, and noisy urban life. The solitude of nature that many find so relaxing, that people seek out for its tranquility makes me so desperately uncomfortable I can barely articulate it. I hate the bugs, I hate the quiet, I hate the knowledge that someone could come murder me and no one would hear me scream. I remember enjoying camping with my dad when I was a kid, but that might have been because he bribed me with a Camping Barbie (she had her own lantern and hot pink hiking boots). But if there was anything that was going to win me over, it was Tuscany.
It had a large job ahead of it. And it knocked it out of the park, despite the way our little country-mouse weekend ended (we’ll get to that).
I’d written about Villa Campestri before we left, and though I’d seen photos and scoured online reviews all singing its praises, I still couldn’t believe anything could be so beautiful. A cluster of stone villas, pale gravel paths lined with tall, pointy Cyprus trees, lemon trees, the works. We were upgraded to a two bedroom, private villa, with a fireplace and full kitchen, immediately making us regret the fact that we were only staying the one night and not, you know, forever.
It rained the rest of the day, so we stayed in the grand living room of the main villa, curled up on the sofa, playing chess and reading. The front desk had given us a cute map of the property, with four different nature walks they recommended, peeling off in different directions and all promising a payoff of things like an ancient stone wall, beautiful babbling stream, or a panoramic view of the area. We smartly decided to wait until the weather was better before attempting any of them, and lazily whiled away the hours sipping tea, having a beer, or just staring out the wide glass doors at the back of the house into the gorgeous, rain-soaked landscape. It felt indulgent, and was a welcome change of pace from all the running around we’d done in Rome and Florence the whole week previously.
We had dinner at the main house that night, and got to have a tasting of their signature olive oil, as well as two others from Spain and northern Italy. They all varied in color from lime green to a deep, golden yellow, and were just as different in consistency and flavor. Forget wine flights, give me an olive oil flight any day. That was a big reason we picked Villa Campestri, being the olive oil fiends that we are, and we’ve already agreed to go back at the end of the harvest season one September or October, to see how they do everything from plucking the olives to bottling it all. We took our unfinished bottle of wine back to our villa, and lit a fire without realizing that the flue was closed for the season, so we ended up smoking ourselves out and nearly dying of smoke inhalation. We hid in the bedroom and turned on the Eurovision Song Contest, which was fascinating. Why can’t we stream that in the states??
The next morning, the sun finally decided to make an appearance. After a delicious breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange juice, soft boiled eggs, fresh yogurt covered in honey the resort produced itself, and way too many mini brioche buns, we picked a path from the map they’d given us, and set off, up through their vineyards on flat, slightly inclining ground. Easy enough, though the further we climbed away from the main house, the more taxing it got. The ground had dried somewhat overnight, thankfully, but was still damp. Undeterred, we pressed on, the leftover dew on the tall grass soaking through our shoes. I was trying to be a good sport about it, because this was Jamal’s vacation too, and it’s a compromise, and that’s what marriage is all about. And honestly, the views were spectacular, so it was easy to suck it up and march on. We caught sight of the heavy fog hanging low over the valley, dark blue hills in the distance and green squares of farmland and vineyards spreading out into the distance. It was breathtaking. Nature isn’t so bad, after all!
Until we get a little deeper into the woods, and the path becomes less of a path and more of, well, straight up forest, dotted occasionally with a signpost confirming that we were still going the right way. The terrain is muckier here, wilder. I send Jamal ahead of me, because I was not going to be the one to walk through the inevitable spider web floating between two trees. We walk on for about fifteen minutes, our voices the only noise we hear aside from happily chirping birds and the soft rustle of the wind. I’m swatting around me like an idiot, just to ward off any creepy crawlies, and then the path turns rocky and dips downward toward a muddy stream, before picking back up on the other side in a steep incline. There’s no way we’re making it. Especially because at the top of the next hill, it’s all wild overgrowth. It doesn’t even look like we’re on the path anymore. Even Jamal agrees we should turn back and satisfy ourselves with the views from the top of the vineyard we passed, rather than trekking further in.
(I want to pause here and point out that I was wearing white jeans, because of course I was, because I have nothing even remotely resembling “Nature Clothes” and even if I did, I didn’t pack them.)
So we’re standing there, surveying our options, Jamal standing below me near the stream bed, and we decide to turn around and hike back. There’s a massive rock on the slope of the path, but I got down it just fine, so going back up shouldn’t be a problem.
It was a problem.
My foot slips on the rock, but I’m already too physically committed to going up that I can’t recover my balance, and then I’m aware that either I am getting closer and closer to the ground, or the rock is somehow moving closer to my face. I let out a wailing, slow motion, “Nooooooooo” and then it all happens at once: my foot goes out from under me with a squeaky slide, and I land hard on my knees and palms on the mossy, muddy rock, and my camera, which is slung over my shoulder by its strap instead of safely in my bag where it ought to have been because OF COURSE IT IS, swings forward, smacking the stone lens-first with a sickening crack.
There’s a pause, a long moment of silence as my brain registers what just happened, and when it does, I explode, literally, into tears. Ugly crying, bubbling snot everywhere, and inarticulately shrieking in pain and panic: “MY CAMERA IS BROKEN,” only it’s coming out closer to “HanfgsgahNAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH.” My hands are filthy, brown with wet mud, and there is dirt caked into my camera in places there should never be dirt. My white jeans are now a nauseating shade of yellow-y brown, with little pieces of grass stuck to the knees for good measure.
Magically fortified by adrenaline and desperate to get back indoors to the safety of NOT NATURE, I take off in a sad, limping sprint, Jamal simultaneously running behind me and ducking in case I whirl around and spray him with snot. I’m covering the messy terrain with ease, likely because I’m stomping like a pissed off giant. He somehow has my camera, I forget how he got it, and he’s handing me tissues over my shoulder at a jog, trying to test the shutter and realizing what I know to be true: that when the delicate little glass lens made contact that motherfucking rock, the motor that controls the autofocus broke immediately.
We make it back to our villa, and I strip off my pants and set to work cleaning my camera. By the grace of whatever higher power had my back that day, the lens still works in manual focus, but takes some serious muscle to adjust properly. The lens is replaceable for about $100. The camera body was $1800, so I was relieved beyond words.
I’m mostly mad that I ruined our weekend by being so stupid. Because really, it was SO STUPID. They tell you not to hike through the woods with your camera out in the open for exactly this reason. Had it been in my bag, I would’ve brushed my hands off on my already-ruined pants, and gotten along with my day. Instead, our glorious weekend trip to Tuscany ended with me disturbing every nature creature within a three mile radius and riding pantsless on the way to Siena. Sorry, Jamal!
You can’t take me anywhere.