And so I walked into the warm embrace of Francesco and Gabriella Carfagna.
To be honest, it was a bit of a slog from Piombino to Porto Santo Stefano was much further than I had anticipated. I almost missed the ferry to Giglio. While Nicoletta, my trusty Vespa, is admirable in every respect – dainty but tough, dashing but happy to idle along when the occasion demands – three and bit hours in her saddle, and the concentration required on traffic and irregularities in the road surface, took its toll on a body and mind not exactly in the first division of fitness.
And so when I saw Francesco standing by his house, my heart was glad, as it says in the Bible. ‘You can’t miss us, ‘ he had told me on the phone. “We’re just by the cemetery as you come up the hill towards Giglio Castello. It’ll be a short walk for me when my time comes.’
He was right about not missing the house. It’s as idiosyncratic as the people who live in it. It used to be a windmill. It has lost a bit of its height, so that it looks more like the stump of a tower than a tall and graceful mill looking out across the sea to Elba, the mysterious cone of Montecristo and Corsica beyond. And, like a mill, the tower is round inside and out, with a single room on each floor, with the ground floor trebling as sitting room, dining room, and kitchen – the smallest kitchen I have ever seen in my life. I was quartered in a separate, and slightly more expansive level below, in a room, most of which was taken up with cartons of wine.
‘You will sleep with the bottles,’ proclaimed Francesco grandly, as if somehow the bottles were conscious and responsive.
Francesco – a mop of white hair; sideburns the like of which I haven’t seen since the ’70s; stocky; wearing a pink shirt with a frayed collar and a pale blue jersey that would have been shapeless were (the change of tense here is deliberate; there is something so vivid and vital about Francesco and Gabriella that only the present tense can convey it) it not stretched over a considerable tummy. Weather beaten. The colour of his curiously cherubic
face, arms and hands are so deep that I think he may be that colour all the way through. His eyebrows have a life of their own. They are a dark, spiky hedge above his eyes, with the odd white hair striking out in its own direction. Francesco is the finest winemaker on Giglio and one of the best known in Italy.
Gabriella – beautiful, with one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen; broad, Slavic; high cheek bones; broad mouth; short light brown hair without a trace of white; pale brown eyes. Her face changes its expression with almost every word she speaks – laughing, cross, serious, hectoring, thoughtful, kindly, laughing again, ironic, sardonic – ‘France-e-e-sco’ – she stretches out the middle vowel – ‘Tesoro’. Ironic, definitely. It’s as if changing winds pass over her face as they pass over her mind.
They make their home my home.
‘I will make dinner,’ says Francesco.
‘Is it all right if I have a shower and change first?’ I say, not knowing of they keep very precise eating hours or not.
‘Perche no?’says Francesco. ‘Why not?’
[I will add photos of Francesco & Gabriella when I taken some that accurately reflect them]