A Room with a View

The creek of metal followed by the slap of wooden shutters against stone walls starts the day. They sound one after another in the mountaintop hamlet of Montone. Calls of “Ciao!” and “Buon Giorno!” ring through the streets; birds sing in the distance.

I open my own shutters and gaze upon a valley of green hills with pristine rows of Ceders of Lebanon. Centuries-old farmhouses stand in the distance. Fields of tobacco, their leaves tinged yellow, dot the landscape–for probably the last time. After almost four hundred years, Umbria’s historic crop will disappear. EU subsides are ending as farmers contemplate a new future. Some are experimenting with herbs and legumes; others choose to cover their land in solar panels. Even though they distract from the picture-perfect scenery, it’s a smart move in a country where energy is costly.


My Room with a View



My new residence is the top floor of a 14th-century tower, built alongside Montone’s medieval walls. I’m the guest of an old friend, who stumbled across the property during a trip to Tuscany in the late 90s. Within days she pulled a mini-Under the Tuscan Sun, but in Umbria and an hour away from Frances Mayes and her storybook discovery.

HIgh in my tower, I’m pretending to be Rapunzel…without the long, flowing hair…and the Prince trying to climb into her room. What happened to all the Princes anyway? I might settle for a hard working plumber, but I don’t see him either.

An important fortified town by 1121, Montone is a hamlet of 800 people with breathtaking views, narrow alleys, and waging tongues. Within hours I have the scoop, or at least part of it.





Luckily, my medieval tower has hot water, so I shower and walk the cobbled street to the main campo to meet some friends for breakfast—the usual cappuccino and croissant, or cornetto, as they say in Italian. I have two different sets of friends in Montone, from two different places and times in my life. What are the odds?

I see the world getting smaller. Obviously not in circumference, but in the degrees of separation between people. There are supposedly six degrees—that would be six people between you and anyone else on the planet. For me that number has fallen to one, sometimes two. And now, at breakfast in a sun-drenched square, surrounded by ancient walls and almost a millennium of history, I’m amazed by the coincidences of life once again.

My individual friends have been neighbors for 9 years, unbeknownst to me until recently. At breakfast they discuss whom they saw at the market and mention a name I know well.


Montone's Main Campo

Montone’s Main Campo


“I have such a funny story about Mario,“ I chime in to the amazement of everyone.

“How do you know this person?” one of the women asks.

“He spent a month with me in Mexico,” I answer, enjoying their expressions of surprise. I could have given them the innocent details, how Mario had traded Umbria’s harsh winter for a reprise of warmth and color. I saw him many times during his visit, but it wasn’t like that…you know, the “like that” that they’re all now thinking at the table. I decide to leave it to their imaginations, and continue my story.


Montone View

Montone View


“So, one day Mario is giving a sausage making class to a group of my culinary students—all women, and he invites his new American girlfriend, Debbie, to come along.”

“Wait. When did this happen?” they ask in unison.

“Patience, please,” I say, silencing my overly curious audience.

I explain the scene in vivid detail. How Mario grinded pork with fresh fennel, and then stuffed it into transparent casings via a hand-cranked machine. He stood behind the metal device, turning the handle, bopping his head from side to side as he whistled.

Mario, a stout man in his 50s, almost always has a smile on his face. At 5”6” he’s been compared to a Super Mario brother.

“Look at those hands,” Debbie said in a low, sultry voice at the minced pork rolled out of the meat grinder. “Aren’t his hands amazing?”

My students and I adjusted our heads to gaze upon an average pair of somewhat stubby hands.

“What he does with those hands…it’s unbelievable,” Debbie continued as the group eyed each other—somewhat perplexed. Mario doesn’t speak English, so for all he knew Debbie was giving us a description of her favor chocolate cake with all the moans and groans that a good slice of cake deserve.

“I mean…amazing.” Debbie’s voice grew softer and each word she spoke was drawn out to its fullest…and she’s not even from the south. “I…never…knew…what …a goooodddd…lover was like until I met Mario. He…”

Oh, god, I thought to myself. I have to do something. My students paid for a sausage making class and this is getting out of hand. The professional Kris was horrified, absolutely horrified.

“Senssuuall, yes, that’s the word. He takes his hands and he….”

No, no, no. This can’t be happening.

“So, Debbie,” I interjected quickly. “How did the two of you meet?” I knew the minute I asked that it was the wrong question, but the turn of events had thrown me off my game.

“I met Mario in cooking class, just like this.” Debbie said, pulling the encased sausage slowly and gently from the machine. “I took one look at those hands and I knew.” Debbie continued to help extract the sausage as Mario innocently grinned and my students gulped down their glasses of water.

Back in Montone my audience roars with laughter. They know Mario well and will probably never look the same at him again. Next week at the market they will push others out of their way guaranteeing a glimpse of his hands.

“So what finally happened?” my friends asked and I answered truthfully. “I left the room and hid on the patio. That way I could plead ignorance if someone asked—what was that about? I didn’t pay good money to hear…”

But no one complained. They all left with huge grins and thanked me for a very interesting evening.

Sausage Making Class

Sausage Making Class


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