For as long years as I can remember, I have wanted to speak Italian. It was spring 2012 and our second time in Italy in two years. While walking through Montepulciano, my wife noticed a store selling exquisite children’s clothing, the kind more easily found in Europe. As she window shopped, I found a little pamphlet box at a nondescript door beside the shop. The pamphlets advertised Il Sasso , a language school teaching Italian as a second language . Fast forward one year and we were back in Montepulciano for three weeks of introductory Italian.
Montepulciano is a walled city perched on top of a 600-metre limestone ridge. It has steep, narrow streets, which wind their way up from the lower gates to the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi, about 75 metres outside of the upper gate. For the three weeks, we rented an apartment in the Politiano Apartments just outside the upper gate and 50 metres from Santa Maria dei Servi. More importantly, we could walk to Susanna Crociani in three minutes to purchase a fine bottle of Nobile.
The apartment is in a palazzo built by Sir William Stuart in the mid-1800’s as a family home. In the year 2000, Giacomo Stuart subdivided the residence into a small number of apartments available to tourists. Our apartment overlooked Val di Chiana. In the morning, the clouds and mist rise up from the vineyards and olive groves in the valley below. The Stuarts have painstakingly restored the gardens so there are beautiful shaded areas to relax and enjoy a glass of wine or a spritz. I remember watching Maria Stuart, Giacomo’s sister, lugging huge rocks up a steep slope as she worked on the restoration.
My wife and I wanted to learn Italian to better enjoy the culture and out of respect for a country we love. Il Sasso caters to students like us but also to professionals and diplomatic staff that need Italian language skills. Accordingly, the teachers take the class work seriously. There is a 09:00h start and the school day ends at about 15:00h. The instructors assign homework, nothing too strenuous but students are expected to be ready for class every morning. Despite the rigour, classes are fun and the lunch break is more than an hour.
We loved our teachers, Roberta Tamagnini, Sara Chierchini, and Costanza Rossi. Very occasionally Alberto Quinti would teach a class. If you visit the web site, they are still there. So is Heike Wilms. Thinking that is not an Italian name? Well, you are right. She arrived in Montepulciano from Germany and never wanted to leave. She always succeeded in making me laugh. Almost single-handedly, Heike keeps the place together and makes sure that students are cared for.
Friendships grow quickly at the school as everyone has a similar interest in the language and the culture. Fellow students included:
This kind of vacation may not appeal to everyone but I found it to be incredibly rewarding:
We enjoyed our first three weeks so much, we went back the next year. I still need to go back to continue working on Italian as a second language.
The usual reminders:
I know! I am going to sound like a grumpy old man. Maybe that is because I am. I have been scratching my head in wonderment at the Taylor Swift phenomena. Is she an Incredible song writer, composer, and performer? I really don’t know! A discussion for another time? But probably not. At my age […]
Don’t build it! At least, Not In My Back Yard ! I acted as an advisor in the sale of a beautifully natural, 14-acre urban waterfront estate. Existing zoning allowed for the development of 30 to 35 single-family homes, which after road dedication would leave very little green space. I did not think that was […]
We were visiting Glasgow (literally that Dear Green Place in Gaelic) to see where my father was born, grew up, and went to University. Fortunately for me, my cousin John from Australia had just visited and had met with historians, Bruce Downie and Norry Wilson. So, we too arranged to meet them in the Govanhill […]
Vienna on top again. This week both Monocle Magazine and The Economist unveiled their quality of life / most liveable city indexes. There are differences in the way each publication sets its index. So it is even more impressive that once again, Vienna tops both lists. I am a bit lazy today so rather than […]
Many Viennese went from hot bedding to superblocks overnight. Could they even imagine an apartment complex 1000 metres long built along two streets with even more massive landscaped courtyards? Could they conceive of 1400 apartment units built to house 5000 people on 56,000 square metres or 38 acres of land. Or a vertical build-out that […]
Vienna had been a poor city even before the First World War. “Normal” housing arrangements meant six to eight people sharing one room and a kitchen. Then, in early 1919, just after the Armistice, the cost of living tripled in two months. Bed lodgers could no longer afford their 8-hours a day in a shared […]