San Gimignano View, 2002
I’ve never been to Montepulciano (Monte-pull-chee-anno). It’s one of the hill towns of Tuscany. I’ve been close, as in Sienna. And so far as Italian hill towns are concerned, I’ve made the requisite tourist trek to San Gimignano, which has its charm but is decidedly run over with tourists during the daytime.
But for pure mellifluence, what combination of syllables, consonants and vowels rolls off the tongue as smoothly as “Montepulciano”?
I’m not exactly sure what the name means. My weak Italian and check of the dictionary suggest something along the line of “Mount of the First Names.”
But who cares? I’m pretty sure I first heard of Montepulciano in E.M. Forster’s “Where Angels Fear to Tread.” Montepulcano’s role in the book is to serve as the hedonistic Italian retreat of a repressed British widow. Or at least that’s how the repressed British in-laws of the widow look upon it. If you saw the 1991 film version starring Helen Mirren, you’ll recall how actress Judy Davis’ snit face in the role of the widow’s prim and ever so repressed sister-in-law set a standard so high that I can’t imagine that any other actors playing proper snit-faced British folk will ever measure up to it.
Of course, the truth is that Montepulciano is not a hedonistic place. It’s only when Italy’s languid stile di vivere is compared to the prim Victorian standards of England in late Nineteenth Century that it looks that way. (But what place wouldn’t?) British literature of the time is full of louche characters who slink off to Italy to misbehave. Remember Lord Marchmain in “Brideshead Revisited”?
I hope to return to Tuscany some day. Our stay there wasn’t nearly long enough. Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a song that is a siren call to some of us. The first verse goes like this:
What if we went to Italy
A suitcase of books and one bag a piece for the summer
I don't speak a word of Italian
Except for Campari and soda for two, how much is a Lire
Yes, a villa will do and a breeze, in Tuscany please
You can hear the rest of it here.