Sergio, the manager of my hotel in Cortona, was waiting at the railway station to greet me off my train from Rome. What a friendly way to begin a trip. When we reached the car park, a beautiful young woman was waiting in the passenger seat of his Alfa Romeo. A pink flower loosely held her long, auburn hair behind one ear and she was holding a bunch of freshly-picked lavender.
"Lavender", I declared, exhibiting the full range of my horticultural knowledge in a single word, "how lovely". I thought there would be some sort of explanation for the woman's presence, if not for the lavender, but Sergio offered none and neither did his glamorous friend. He was concentrating on driving like an Italian (at full throttle and with little caution) through the narrow, cobbled streets of old Cortona and she was concentrating on looking like a young Audrey Hepburn, which, now I think about it, were tasks which demanded little effort or concentration from either of them.
This is Italy where life can often seem quite effortless and explanations are not required. A beautiful woman clutching freshly-picked lavender in your passenger seat is perfectly normal. One might as well wonder why the car has doors or tyres.
Sergio drove like he was challenging for the lead on the final lap of the Monza Grand Prix, employing the brakes only when needing to reach out of the window long enough to shake hands and compliment a passing friend. "Hey, Fabio, I saw your wife this morning, she looks great in that red dress. Let's meet for dinner". By the time we'd reached the hotel, Sergio had made dinner plans with half of Cortona. I suspect the other half would just turn up anyway.
I had just enough time to get out and catch some pockets of light in Cortona as the sun began its lingering descent. I'm used to the Asian sunset, where day turns to night so rapidly that you might miss it if you blink the sweat out of your eyes, so it was a pleasure to be reminded how generous the Italian sun is with its approach to setting. I've decided that the Italian sunset is perfectly timed to allow for the enjoyment of a bottle of fine Chianti - or two, if you're with a friend. And, in Italy, you're never alone for long if you have a bottle of fine Chianti - or a bunch of freshly-picked lavender.