It all started back on the train to Orvieto. We were sitting there relaxed, looking out the window, a bit sleepy from the early start, when suddenly, we sat up.
“Did you see that?”
“Oh my god, I wanted that photo!”
“That was perfect!”
We took a note of the location – how many minutes to the next station – so that we could be ready on the way home, with our cameras, on the right side of the train, facing the right direction. We sat there eagerly, my camera pre-zoomed, so as not to waste any time. And we managed to fire off a few shots, but still, the train was too fast, and the motion too blurred for the picture-postcard perfect photograph.
“Never mind,” the husband consoled me. “We’re sure to see plenty more on the way north.”
And we did. Except we were on autostradas at the time, about as useful for photography as trains. Still, I was happy to see this oh-such-Italian of sights, in classic Tuscan countryside as we sped our way north. In the north, though, they had disappeared. And I was resigned to the fact that by the time we were heading south, they would be past their best, ready for harvest and all brown and shrivelled and definitely not photogenic.
And I was mostly right. Our three-day trip from Vittorio Veneto to Monopoli, in Apulia in the south (on the heel of Italy’s boot) showed that Italy’s crop had largely been harvested or was about to be. And still, once again, we were caught on the magnificent autostradas, running at 130 kmph, unable to snap out the window, and impossible to stop, even if we had caught them at the right time.
But Italy offers other views too. “Oh, look at that!” I would cry, at rolling fields and old farmhouses catching the light just perfectly, at far off villages on top of hills, with tall bell towers, or crumbling castles on the horizon, at vineyards or olive groves or both, patch-working the countryside. My wistful voice said all too frequently, “that would have been a good shot” as it disappeared from view. So many picture postcard shots in Italy, if you had the time (and yes, you’d think three months is enough time but it really isn’t) you could roam this country taking photo after photo of idyllic countryside, village, and medieval town shots. It wouldn’t be difficult, and you wouldn’t have to be a particularly talented photographer, Italy is so beautiful. So as much as possible, I tried to forget the missed photo ops, and just soak it in.
We exited the autostrada on our second day of this trip south. We’d taken it easy that morning, leaving the beach resort late, after a walk along the shoreline, and a casual breakfast at an open air café with a waiter who had never met New Zealanders before. So it was late afternoon by the time we headed inland, in search of our small country hotel. After 20 minutes or so, suddenly, there in front of us, was the view I had been searching for. Even better, there was an open gate into the field for us to park. Unfortunately though, the light was poor, facing us, and our enthusiastic photography just didn’t give us the results we wanted. Still, we knew we were returning the next morning, when the light should be better. So we went on to our little hotel, leaving the provincial road, and climbing up into the hills, no longer green, but brown, after late summer harvests had occurred. But even then the browns were golden, and the hills rolled gently and artistically, and the farmhouses looked quaint, the occasional cypress or olive grove adding some colour or variety to the view.
We settled into our hotel, finding our perfect little (and very reasonably priced) hotel high on a hill, with a swimming pool, and beer and aperitivi. We looked over the stone wall, at all the brown stalks in the field, and asked the owner what they were. She confirmed our worst suspicions. Yes, they were what we thought they were, and worse, they’d been harvested the day before we got there!
“You should have been here a month ago,” she said. “Late July, that is the time. We’re surrounded by about 50 hectares of them.”
I groaned. So close, but so so far.
“Yes,” her husband nodded enthusiastically, not feeling my pain. “It’s like Van Gogh, out here.”
The Husband (mine) thought this was all very hilarious, so we put it aside, and enjoyed our delicious dinner in the garden, with wine from the vines at the front of the hotel, watching a family of foxes.
The next morning we headed out. The light was right. And this is what we saw:
And for the record, this was the view on the train from Orvieto. Looking from the opposite direction, standing still, with the sun on the old farm building in the morning, it would have been a great shot.