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Il Sacerdote Brontolone (The Grouchy Priest)

Tuscany, 2011

Tuscany lends itself to photography. The countryside is eternally patient as you attempt to frame the perfect scene. The olive trees and the grape vines quietly, slowly, patiently mature in the sun as they have for centuries. If you want to take their picture, they don’t care. They have work to do. The cypress trees stand proud and tall like soldiers refusing to flinch as you click away.

In total contrast, scenes of everyday life in the ancient Tuscan hill towns appear and disappear in an instant, like fireflies. Three elderly women haggle with the produce man in the outdoor market, a butcher carefully inspects his delivery in the front door of his shop, a wine master expertly holds his Chianti into the early evening light to admire the color. We want to capture these images forever. To do so, you need to be quick and you try to be respectful.

On our trip to Italy, we chose to stay in San Gimignano, a beautiful town known for its well preserved medieval towers. Perched high on a hill, these towers create a magnificent skyline when seen from a distance. San Gimignano is sometimes referred to as the the “Manhattan of Tuscany”. We found a very quaint apartment that was actually partially located in one of the smaller towers, La Torre Useppi.

Most of the windows in the apartment looked out into a cramped little courtyard. One of the windows, the one located in the tower part, looked out directly on to the Piazza del Duomo (Church Square). Looking left and right provided a view of the town’s main road (pedestrian only), Via San Matteo. If you looked straight ahead you had a beautiful view of the Collegiata, the largest church in the town.

San Gimignano is half way between the major Tuscan cities of Florence and Siena. As a result, it is a very popular day trip from both cities. We had been told that the streets are packed wall to wall with tourists in the summer. We were there in February and it was quite the opposite. It seemed only a few buses pulled up to the gates of the town each day. We could hear a mixture of German, English, and Japanese from the tourists as they moved in a sort of loose pack through the town on foot.

Friends of ours were staying in a hotel a few hundred feet down the Via San Matteo. We had set a meeting time of around 10:30AM to head out together for assorted adventures. After coffee I decided I would poke my head out of the tower window to see if we could locate our friends heading our way. At around the same time the piazza was filled with a bus load or two of the daytrippers. People posed in front of the church or were taking artistic pictures of the sun creating great contrast of light and shadows on the stone buildings.

As I peered down the narrow lane I couldn’t help but feel like I was being watched. I looked out into the piazza and no less than 20 cameras were all trying to capture a moment of authentic Tuscan life, a pensive local man alone in his tower. Nothing could have been further than the truth. I was an American tourist looking for my friends.

I sent my daughter down to the square to get a ground level view report. She said in my black sweater up in the tower I looked just like "a grouchy priest".


We loved it. Posing in the window became a daily activity. Always up for a laugh, my mother even took a turn donning sunglasses and a scarf atop her head doing her best version of Sophia Loren. She was a big hit with the “paparazzi”.

We have dozens of great images of everyday Tuscan life in our photo album. I wonder how many of them are pictures of tourists, just like us…

Posted by EuropInFebruary 09:03 Archived in Italy Tagged san tuscany gimignano

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