Kelly Kinsella


Kelly is currently performing her one-woman show: "WHEN THOUGHTS ATTACK!"

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Il Mio Italiano in Italia

Pep reflecting on the Tuscan countryside. My muse. My loyal companion. My pain in my ass. 

Pep gets antsy like anyone stuck in a medieval mountain town doused in the dry heat of late summer, surrounded by stale bread and religious pilgrims and church groups from the Phillipines and the Midwest. 

Lucky for him (and unlucky for me) he has a car. I'm supposed to be here working, writing... and I am...sometimes. But then out of nowhere, well, actually from my window that I open every morning, Tuscany comes a calling, and Lake Trasimeno, and the sea...

Yesterday we hightailed it outta town at 9am for a scheduled wine tasting in Montepulciano, a short one hour drive over the Umbrian border to a more modern and familiar terrain. This landscape reminds me of the Finger Lakes in upstate NY where I am from and where they attempt to make great wines out of the reisling grape. In recent years they are succeeding, often with a German or Austrian vintner, but arriving nonetheless to a semi dry white wine that is worthy of wrapping in bubble wrap and tucking into a once carried on bag that now must be checked for $20. This happened to me recently on a visit to Keuka Lake with my family while celebrating my parent's success in selling their Syracuse house and buying a new house to retire to in North Carolina. I suggested they stock up on some wines from the region since they'd make great conversation pieces with their newfound friends down south. I'm wondering if they made it to the moving date- I myself drank my two bottles pretty much within a week or so- pairing it with thai curry one night, a fresh peach from the Union Square farmer's market the next. Unfortunately, the bottle of rose I was saving for my wine club got uncorked on my roof the night before leaving for Europe for a month- my concern being, chilled rose sipping season will be long over by the time I return in late September. These wines are meant to be drunk straight away! Not stored on the floor of my closet inside my winter boots. 

And so here we find ourselves, Pep and I, playing hooky from Assisi and tasting Vino Nobile di Montepulciano at Poliziano, a "young" winery in an old region where only 60 km away, in Chianti Classico, there exists the oldest winery in Italy dating back to the middle ages.

It's 10am. You have to make appointments in Tuscany to visit wineries, you can't just walk in. So even though we woke up and went wine tasting "on a whim," I actually had to carefully plan the whole thing the night before and do research and write to wineries and schedule appointments. Pep always trusts me to do all the leg work, I admit I'm pretty good at it, but I'm supposed to be writing here! Give me a hand for god's sake!! I love that I'm allowed to get all fired up and angry here in Italy. It's part of the culture goddammit!!

Lunch was scheduled after the two tastings and by that time I was a little tipsy and starving. The tour guides had a few crackers and some pecorino on hand but certainly not enough to soak up the alcohol. And since we had to make a reservation for lunch, there was no time for a romantic drive leading to god knows where like they do in the movies. The good news is the food and wine scene is very California here in Tuscany- modern, clean, knowledgable...The bad news is- like in Umbria- any and every source of food location is closed from 2pm-8pm. We had to speed Mario Andretti style through the winding narrow roads of southern Tuscany to arrive just in time to place an order for pici con pomodori and a sausage covered in a balsamic wine sauce with a contorni of insalata mista from the garden just down the hill. It was delicious but the portions were small so by the time I realized it wasn't enough, the kitchen had closed. The kind waitress asked if we wanted dessert and I wanted to linger and get a coffee and enjoy the view but Pep started getting hot and was probably still hungry so naturally wanted to leave.

As you can imagine this lack of communication turned into me accusing him of bullying and he in turn giving me the silent treatment for the rest of the day. I ended up in a tirade, calling the town of Montepulciano a "dump" and all the people who owned restaurants in the area "idiots." If only they would keep their restaurants and bars open in the afternnon while everyone and their sister is driving around on vespas drunk...maybe they could make a euro or two!!!! And-

"Lake Trasimeno wouldn't be such a depressed swamp visited only by the occassional local delinquent!!!!"-as shouted by a tired and hungry American.

Jeez, what happened to my zen like state and the long, languid days in Assisi contemplating nature and the simplicity of man's existence?

Thankfully today is Sunday and I woke up in time to catch the morning mass at the Basilica of St. Francis. Since we are staying on the complete opposite end of town, the walk to the Basilica is a pilgrimmage on its own. I always take the high road (at least geographically) and get lost, and ultimately find myself in front of the convent where I stop and listen to the nuns sing. I figured after yesterday's outburst of anger and frustration, I could use a good dose of the Lord Jesus My Saviour...

It took them a half an hour to prepare the altar and though I sat on the end of the bench far in the back for an easy out if need be, I was somehow quickly flanked by an older couple on one side and two nuns on the other, while simultaneously being barricaded in by the security. The aisles were cordoned off and I started to sweat. Instead of praying on the theme of my mortal soul, I prayed I'd be able to find an exit strategy. At this point the priests told all the tourists to leave the area. But I stayed knowing that perhaps I may find some temporary salvation and/or at least not have to make the annual failed attempt to attend midnight mass this Christmas.

The clergy consisted of a tag team of three priests, two friars and an alter boy. These guys were like the cast of Who's Line Is It Anyway or rather a commedia del arte troupe from the local Rennaissance Faire. There were wide open arm gestures and self deprecating jokes though no one but I was laughing. After the sermon I almost did a standing ovation, forgetting for a moment I wasn't in a Broadway theatre. From then on it was like the edited snippets of the baptism scene from The Godfather except without the grusome murders. The congregation were obviously all regulars here and between the group prayer, singing and choreographed kneeling, I was sure I'd be sniffed out as an imposter by the nuns. Thankfully, they were too busy crying next to me since as it turns out, the preaching was less of a comedy and more of a tragedy. All the more reason i don't like coming to church.

I stayed for the wafer and noticed that the woman before me somehow got reprimanded by the cleric for doing something wrong in the process of receiving the Body of Christ. I panicked and did all the things, I held out my tongue and my hands, made the sign of the cross, said "Amen," and "Grazie," and "Bouna Giornata"..."Have a nice day!" like I was working the take out window at a McDonalds. I was tempted to leave right then and there but I felt guity and also a sense of pride of having sat through an hour and fifteen minutes of this torture. I can surely hold out to the end. 

And then I saw three 8 year old boys skirt out from the middle bench of section A, their mothers tsk tsk-ing after them while mid cantare, the boys smiling and already decided, "non mama, andiamo," and my instincts kicked in and I pushed past the nuns and the elderly and fearlessly joined the three pied pipers sailing past the security guards and out onto the street, my mind already brimming with ideas for my next escape with Pep and his rental car into the wild west of Italy and beyond. 


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