Once upon a time in Montisi…

Once upon a time in Montisi…
Montisi from above.

A few years back I had the good fortune to visit the beautiful Tuscan hamlet of Montisi with my parents and some of their best friends that I grew up with like a second family. Located in what I consider the best wine region in the world, the town has some of the best food and wine I have ever experienced. The town is about one street long, but the people are so kind and I hope that they will be able to restart with tourism once travel is allowed again.

We stayed in Villa Maddalena, which is an impressive villa with views of the Tuscan hills, a pool, and herb, vegetable and fruit gardens. I remember it felt like a medieval paradise, with impressive wooden furniture and lots of hallways and little nooks for reading or just listening to the birds.

By far the coolest thing about the property was that it happened to be on top of where the jousters from the quartiere held their annual feast before la giostra – the town’s jousting tournament – began. My mom and I heard some excitement and as curious being we ventured down and found a secret entry to the banquet hall. Instead of asking us to leave, we were obligated to stay and celebrate, toasting to the young rider who would be performing in the event. It was like being in medieval times for real and I will never forget it. I’m so glad I got to share that experience with my mom, too. She even started speaking Italian after a few bicchiere di vino.

La Giostra

And speaking of vino. The reason I am writing about this beautiful little hamlet is that our tour guide and sommelier during the entire trip, Antonella, was fantastic. She and her husband run a little wine shop in the town, and of course this being peak tourism season with little people passing through, they are doing their best to stay positive and continue supplying excellent wines to their customers and clients.

Antonella is great because although it is unlikely (although I hope not) that we’ll get to go back to Montisi, she remains in touch and continues to send us messages about what is going on in town. She started a new project to teach people about wine, and I wanted to share it here. If you know me, you know I love wine, and I’m thankful for all the amazing lessons I learned while living in Tuscany.

Antonella has started a video series giving online classes about wine, and I’ve started watching them. At least while I’m sitting at home I can learn something while I imbibe! You can see the trailer to her video, here. To learn more about the classes, send an e-mail to antonella.piredda@live.it and she can let you know how it works. She’s also set up a webpage. It is important to note that 50% of all proceeds Antonella receives will be given to local charities. And apart from wine, she can hook you up with olive oil, cheese, truffles, and even local art. Get in touch with her and help Montisi survive!

Use this time to learn about some amazing wines and come out on the other side impressing everyone!

People are doing some pretty cool things during this time, and I’m enjoying seeing the creativity. How are you spending your lock-down time?

Adaptive Surf: Passion for Surfing Makes Anything Possible

I first met Tommasso Pucci on a weekend this summer where I was attending the Outdoor Sports Festival that takes place every year in the Golfo di Baratti, located close to Piombino, just between the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian Seas. I was taking a solo weekend trip to get out of Florence and practice some water sports. In recent years many of my beach vacations had been mostly full of seafood and lounging — la dolce vita for some, and on occasion for me, but this year after attending a conference on the future of maritime policy in the European Union, I had a new reason to be interested in spending time at the beach. I decided to study the laws of the sea and learn about sailing, and at the festival for just €10 I could try everything: sea kayak, catamaran, standup paddle (SUP) — I even tried and failed miserably to kitesurf, but mostly because the guys on the stage were making fun of me — by name over the microphone — the entire time!

While doing some networking at the festival and generally picking the brains of all the athletes manning the booths, I met Tommasso. I had just been out on a SUP board and was pleasantly reminded that surfing, like biking, is not easily forgotten. All those summers watching Blue Crush and balancing on my IndoBoard weren´t a complete waste! Tommasso is a SUP instructor based in Florence, where he founded ToscanaSUP. His enthusiasm for the sport is completely infectious, and he was thrilled to learn that I was interested in water sports in general. We arranged to meet in Florence after the festival so he could tell me more about how his organization operates, and introduce me to an even bigger movement, adaptive surfing.

When he´s not driving around chasing waves in his camper or helping tourists get an amazing photo-op on a surfboard below the ponte vecchio (or elsewhere), Tommasso works with a group called Surf 4 All. The organization, run out of the Bagno degli Americani in Tirrenia states that its mission is to improve the overall enjoyment of life,  psychologically and cognitively through the accessibility of sport activities. With the admission of surfing as an Olympic sport in the 2020 Tokyo games, the project is also part of a larger international movement that aims to allow athletes who engage in adaptive surfing to qualify and compete professionally.

Photo Credit: International Surfing Association

Adaptive surfing is facilitated surfing for an entire range of disabilities in a wide variety of ways, including facilitated surfing with a partner or a customized board depending on the athlete´s needs. A relatively new sport, the International Surf Association has issued guidelines that outline the specific rules and categories for what is and is not permissible in an international competition.

More interesting to me than the competitive adaptive surfing though was the work that groups like Surf4All do with handicapped children. Tommasso spends his time with other surfers flying around the world to run adaptive surf camps in the most beautiful places. When we talked he had just gotten back from Fuerteventura, Canarias and was beginning to get all his photos and videos online. He explained to me that the European Union through the Erasmus + Sport 2017, Play and Train program is now providing funding for more adaptive surf camps for young people in order to foster health, well-being and social cohesion through access to sports that require specific equipment.

I ended up joining Tommasso for a weekend of surfing after our meeting and I can definitely vouch for his awesomeness. He was in touch with friends up and down the coast reporting on waves and weather conditions, and was up at the crack of dawn both days to be out in the water as much as possible. I must confess I did less surfing and more shopping over the weekend, since it was extremely hot weather and I wasn´t feeling so great, but I did get to explore la Marina di Pietrasanta, which hosted a massive outdoor market all day on Saturday, and had live music and family games near the pier in the evening. I learned about the local art scene, and seriously contemplated asking to be left behind!

Are you a surfer? Adaptive surfer? Have questions or want to get involved as a volunteer? Leave a comment or send me a message!



Firenze Multistars 2017

On April 28 and 29 of this year I had the pleasure of being asked to return to the 30th edition of the Firenze Multistars (Zerneri Acciai Trophy) event that takes place annually at the Firenze Atletica stadium, just outside Florence´s city center. I was really thankful to the entire Multistars team because I had participated as a translator at the event the previous year and I had a way better time than I could have possibly imagined. While I´ve been having the time of my life traveling and running outdoors whenever I can squeeze in the time, years had passed since I´d been on the track. Not to mention I was witnessing world class athletes train, perform and compete right in front of me. Track and field is always my favorite summer Olympic sport to watch, so to be at the live show was an amazing experience.

This year when asked if I would be available I said yes without even checking my calendar! I had just started a new job and wasn´t sure how stressed or tired I would be, but I know I wanted to hang out at the track that weekend. The best part about being around the athletes is that nobody cares if you, too, show up post-workout to try and observe and copy some of their warm up/cool down routines.

The story of the Firenze Multistars is lovely. Its founder, Gianni Lombardi dreamed of organizing an international athletic meeting. He, together with his wife and daughter, Barbara (now the main organizer of the event) decided to go for it despite limited resources. Through the help of friends, they were able to put together an event that today is known as the meeting dell’amicizia — the friendship meet.

The first time I translated at the meet, I was working with a judge from the International Association of Athletics Federations,  the international governing body for athletics. The organization sends an international judge to the Multistars event every year for anti-doping procedures, and I got to be in on the action. I learned about how the heptathlon and decathlon competitors are corralled after their events and closely monitored throughout the entire meet, and then randomly selected for drug testing. I worked with the Italian medics and the IAAF judge to be sure that everyone understood each other. Confusion, adrenaline and nerves were all high and athletes´ integrity is on the line, so it was a really emotionally charged experience.

Me with Firenze Marathon President Giancarlo Romiti

The best parts of the Multistars event however were the excellent sportsmanship and passion exhibited by all involved — athletes, trainers, families, spectators, and tons of volunteers, many of whom I got to know pretty well just chatting and watching the competitions. Everyone was completely involved in helping the athletes do their best and achieve the most points possible. Barbara was amazing at making sure athletes were given the best opportunities. I loved watching her and her dad try to gauge where the wind came from to time the high jumps, or where to place the sand pit for long jumps. The team ran around everywhere to make sure everything was in the right place at the right time! To experience the technical expertise and effort that goes into an athletic event really made me appreciate the coaches I had at Marshall High School a long time ago!

The whole weekend culminated in the Firenze Multistars party, a super fun event where all involved congratulated the athletes and prizes were given out for winners, personal best times, and of course Miss and Mister Multistar! This was also where I got to embarrass myself as the ¨official¨ presenter. I was able to ham it up for awhile until a kind soul finally relieved me of my duties so I could go join the party too.

Congratulations to all who participated in the 30th anniversary of the Firenze Multistars, and thank you sincerely for giving me a chance to participate. I hope to see you all back in Florence next year!

Me and the beautiful Barbara with the 2017 MISTERS