The Co-Op in Siena was well stocked and what we had in our shopping basket and the prices for the items had us grinning. There was a quarter kilo of provincial prosciutto, a plump Tuscan cantaloupe, a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese that we’d grate later over fresh pasta, a ready-made batch of pesto, a small plastic carton of roasted red and yellow bell peppers. The bell peppers came seasoned in extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sliced garlic. We had also tossed in a nice mix of black and green olives, a tomato or two, and a boule loaf of oven fresh bread.
My wife and I had planned on baking a chicken for dinner but couldn’t make it beyond the Co-Op deli section where a deli worker was busy chopping up a several succulent looking, still steaming golden roasted chickens behind the counter. The mouth watering aroma that wafted towards us was the siren’s call and we steered towards it.
“That looks good, doesn’t it?” said my wife.
I nodded because it was hard to speak through drool.
“It would probably save us some time too.”
Since we were on vacation and in no great hurry driving through Italy I wondered what time she was looking to save and gave her the usual confused husband look.
“We can do a few loads of laundry, honey,” she said taking a ticket number and waited in line to place our order. “We’ll need detergent.”
“Uh-huh, we need to do a few loads.”
“Ah,” I said. “I was thinking more along the lines of say, gauging the effects of glassed encased crop fermentation in ambient environs during a semi-somnambulistic or repose state.” I tried to look both intelligent and thoughtful as I said it, but my wife knew better.
“You mean lounging on the terrace and drinking wine, don’t you?” she said, cutting to the chaise.
“To-mato, To-mahto,” I replied, figuring that an answer like `six of one, half dozen of your mother’ might not go over nearly so well. I brooded instead.
“I’ll tell you what. You can do that in between the loads of laundry, Honey,” she said and smiled at the one-sided compromise.
More telling was that she had used the Honey word again.
“Honey,” is the word most wives use when they want their husbands to paint the house, wash the dog, or perform whatever other task they have in mind at any given moment. It is also used in much the same inflection and tone that some outlaw biker gangs use when they say the word, `scooter.’
A wise man, I’m told, knows when to choose his battle, and having never been accused of being wise, I chose a bottle of wine instead, wondering if `Dove e Due Euro, Carlo?’ was the same as `Where is the Two Buck, Chuck?’ in Italian.
“So, you trust me with the laundry, do you?”
“I’m having a weak moment. It won’t last.”
“Scooter,” I said and grabbed a bottle of Chianti from a nearby store shelf.
“Yes dear,’ laundry would be fine,” I said and added another bottle of wine as backup. I chose a different bottle this time just in case the first bottle was bad or say, it emptied too fast.
We let the kids pick out dessert and then paid for our goods at the check-out counter and hiked back to the hotel. We were staying in a two-room apartment at the villa-like Borgo Grondaie, a hillside country style hotel just a short walk from the Co-Op. To call it a country style hotel though doesn’t do it justice.
Besides all of the modern amenities that included private parking, several scenic terraces, a satellite TV, hairdryer, internet connection, private bath, outdoor swimming pool, private parking and air conditioning, the apartment came with two bedrooms, a living room and a working kitchen. While it cost a little more than the average family hotel room in town what we saved by cooking some of our meals more than made up the difference. The nearby Co-Op was just a bonus.
The Borgo Grondaie is the type of scenic Tuscan country hotel you hope you will find on vacation but seldom do. Its wine-colored buildings are comfortably perched on a lime green hill overlooking Siena. The center of town is just a twenty minute (uphill) walk away, thirty if you stop to take pictures or say, answer your kids when they ask `why are we walking when there are cabs?’ and the response of `Exercise’ only lasts for two blocks at a time.
Some on-line reviews have suggested that only downside for the hotel is that it is difficult to find. However, we found it easy enough driving up from Rome. Here’s a tip if you’re driving into Siena and are looking for the hotel: take the turn at the train station, go over the bridge, take the next right to the Co-Op, stay to the right and go around to the back of the Co-Op. The hotel is just up the hill. If you arrive by train it’s a ten minute walk, fifteen if you are hauling too many suitcases or bags.
Here’s another helpful travel tip: don’t haul too many suitcases or bags with you on vacation. Pack light because you probably won’t use everything you’ll bring with you anyway and too, there’s the laundry factor to consider.
And speaking of laundry, on our way back from the Co-Op my wife made a brief stop in the hotel office. “You said there was a washing machine available?” she asked the hotel clerk behind the desk who smiled and nodded.
“Si,” said the young woman who then led us up to the communal laundry room. Inside the laundry room we found a washing machine, several laundry baskets with clothes pins, an ironing board and something that my wife informed me was an `iron,’ which was nonsense because it didn’t look like any five, seven or nine iron I had ever seen on the golf course. I kept the observation to myself and smugly chuckled instead.
“Eccellente,” said my wife. “Grazie, thank you.”
“Prego,” said the clerk.
“I’ll collect up and separate the laundry and give you a load at a time. I’m figuring three loads should do it,” she said and then went into a complex and technical litany on how to perform the task. “For the normal casual lights I want you to set the controls on pre-wash warm-cold, not hot-warm or cold-cold or hot-warm high. Set the spin cycle for spin dry and use precisely twenty five grams of detergent unless the fabric is wool or wool blend then use a seventeen mille-liters of fabric softener for twelve point two minutes, not thirteen unless it is say, an eighty/twenty nylon blend or rayon then use a the thread count tri-cycle backhand backspin, double gainer, half twist entry with a four point degree of difficulty, except with the Eastern European judges. You got that, Honey?” I nodded but perhaps not convincingly enough.
“You sure?” she asked, skeptically.
Okay. So maybe those weren’t her exact words or instructions but to the best of my recollection, Your Honor, it was all too technical and complicated to understand anyway.
“Scooter,” I mumbled.
I just said, “Yes,Dear.”
“Good,” she replied. “When the first load is done, hang up it up on the clothes line upstairs. I’ll have another load ready to go.”
“Of course, you will,” I said.
“Scusi, you mean?”
“In Italian `excuse me’ is `scusi.’ And by the way, I don’t think the clerk was asking if you were pregnant when she called you `prego’ earlier.”
“Prego, wise guy, means you’re welcome.”
“Don’t mention it. Look, I’d love to stay and chat, Sweetie, but I have laundry to do. Hand me the bottle of wine and wine opener, would you?”
“Multi-tasking, are we?”
“Even as the tide turns.”
It was a beautiful Tuscan day, birds were singing in Italian, and a church bell was ringing off in the distance not announcing, I assumed, that the Visigoths were coming. As I was dropping in the first load of laundry along with a healthy and incorrect dose of detergent, I chuckled. The washing machine’s operating instructions were in Italian.
I pressed a handful of likely looking buttons, turned the control dial until I struck water and once the machine cranked up with a bada-bing and no bada-boom, I closed the washing machine’s door and retreated to a lounge chair on a shaded terrace where I poured myself a glass of wine.
Joining me awhile later and eying the now half-filled bottle my wife asked, “So, how’s it going?”
“A man’s work is never done,” I said and poured her a glass.
“Don’t you mean never done right?”