Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy
Part 7: An Afternoon in Casoli; Tuscan Village of Art
In the few short weeks since my arrival I have developed a growing fascination for Tuscany’s iconic hilltop and hillside towns and have now visited so many I would have difficulty numbering let alone naming them. Each one, while distinctive in its own way, usually manages to unearth a treasure in one form or another whether it be a particularly stunning view, a church of unimaginable antiquity, or perhaps if it happens to be market day a riot of colorful fruit and vegetables. Generally speaking however, enchanting as these pastoral delights are they tend to be sampled from the same menu: the bars, the cafes, the little tiny shops, churches, civic buildings, houses and schools all bear a striking resemblance from one village to another. And while I certainly find them really quite fascinating I was never the less delighted to stumble upon one particular village that has thrown convention out of the window!
Prior to my visit I had never heard of Casoli, never read a word about it and had no notion of the artistic gem that I was about to discover. I selected it quite at random as I invariably do. Usually however I spot them from the road, pulling over to study the map until I have devised a route in order to reach it, but in this particular case the process was reversed; noticing a particularly tortuous glut of hairpin bends leading towards a cluster of small villages perched along the road leading out of Camaiore, (where, by the way, I had just discovered perhaps the most fabulous open market I have ever witnessed), I decided upon Casoli simply due to the fact that it appeared to be situated on the other side.
At this point it might be important to add that ‘The Bee’, my trusty Fiat Panda, and myself had formed such a bond that hairpin bends (at least when the weather was as perfect as it was on this particular Saturday), impossible looking gradients, narrow lanes and confusing signage were as nothing to us – we ate up the road, tore through the gears, and loved every minute.
And so, arriving at the village quite energized by the go-cart track of a road I parked my trusty companion as safely as local custom appeared to require and sauntered my way into the village.
For a while I didn’t actually notice the subtle hints that this was no ordinary Tuscan hillside town. The first signs of the coming visual feast took the form of a row of corny garden gnomes lining the wall of a path that I was in the process of following, hoping for a suitably stunning panorama somewhere along the way. In actual fact the gnomes turned out to be Snow White’s retinue of dwarfs – an unusual artistic declaration in this neck of the woods but not entirely radical either, just a bit strange, certainly in comparison to what I was about to discover.
In fact, my first real positive indication that this tidy little hillside community differed from any other was the sight of several hip youngsters, all carrying from what I could tell the makings for a rather nice picnic, or party as it turned out. A short while later another group arrived – equally hip, but a tad older, then another, then an older man who seemed to be ‘between parties’ judging by his slow unsteady gait. But old, young or somewhere in-between they were all thoroughly Italian, and stylishly hip in the self-assured way that seemingly only Italian urbanite hipsters can be.
Eventually I discovered their lair by nonchalantly, but nonetheless quite determinedly, following a particularly hipper than hip group of youngsters. Of course it practically goes without saying that their destination turned out to be a super groovy converted farmhouse outside of which a party was gathering steam upon a broad sun dappled terrace.
I cannot tell you just how badly I wanted to stroll into that scene, bottle of wine in hand, and greet these people as friends with my fluent and witty Italian. But as it was I settled for a few quick snaps of their view (photographing such an occasion would be akin to a full disclosure of my barbaric credentials), let my mind run the ‘wine bottle/witty entrance scenario’ for a moment or two and, turning back towards the village, tried my level best not to feel too uncomfortable and desperately out of place as the procession of cheerful, happy and uniformly hip hipsters flowed past me along the narrow verdant path.
Back in the village, my senses now alerted to the possibility that this might not be your standard run-of-the-mill Tuscan village – the sort where it’s quite reasonable to suppose that nothing out of the normal has ever transpired to distinguish it from its counterparts across the region, the images of hipsters and gnomes triggered a heightened sense of awareness on my part. It was at this precise point that I noticed the first of the murals. Closer inspection revealed them to be lightly carved as opposed to merely painted – a uniform color being then applied to the finished design in a most effective manner.
Then, one by one I began to discover a trail of them adorning the various buildings, only slowly waking to the realization that they were all in fact rather cleverly presented in a manner that deceived the eye and conformed to the perspective of each viewpoint: women leaned out of windows accompanied by their dogs, women held up babies in order for them to admire the view – even the traditional religious illustration over the entrance to the church incorporated an apparently Camino-pilgrimaging Christ figure complete with walking staff and sea shell!
To be quite honest there could, and most likely were, even more of these remarkable images scattered around parts of the village that I never explored but my admiration for the ones I had stumbled upon was suddenly cut short when I discovered a bar – the one that all Tuscan villages seem to have hidden away somewhere; the one that stays open through the siesta in order to cash in on thirsty locals who clearly do not wish to lay down for a nap. Cue my next wonderful surprise.
Of course the beer was ice cold, of course the service was distant without straying into hostile territory, of course the locals pretended to ignore me, but as I stepped out onto the small terrace what a view awaited. Stunning – an overused word for sure, barely does it justice, it was let me then say: magnificent. But not only that – the railing was ringed with huge glass bottles filled with water that produced a quite startling effect, reflecting back an Alice in Wonderland perspective that never lost its appeal throughout the entire time it took to sip my beer, completely awestruck by my surroundings.
Eventually however it was time to head back to The Bee, start her up, retrace the go-cart track and return to the real world. But as I wound my way back to Da Pio, my temporary home in Pietrasanta, I was left to marvel at a land, a landscape… a people capable of creating a jewel of a community as I had just discovered.
Here’s to Casoli, Tuscan Village of Art!
Until next time,