The clouds clear the area overnight, and when I rise at 5:30 this morning, I discover a perfectly clear sky. The stars burn frostily in dark arch of the heavens, wonderfully bright far from any city lights. I gulp down a cup of coffee, then grab tripod and camera and hike into Montepulciano. Italian dogs bark their discontent as I skulk down the black country road; olive groves shimmer in the light of the quarter moon.
There seem to be a number of cars moving around as I scale Montepulciano's steep Corso, the main thoroughfare up the hill. Several times I have to pull tripod and camera off the road as an engine grinds up behind me.
The problem with night photography in a place like Montepulciano is that no matter how evocative a stone alley lit by an old fashioned lamp looks in a picture, after a while you begin to wonder just how many of these sorts of photos a portfolio can support. I have alleys from Rhodes to Montepulciano, with all points in between, and they are beginning to all look the same. Fortunately, when I sneak a peek out over the eastern wall of the city, I see a sight that seems compelling. In the cool of the morning, great banks of mist and fog have coalesced in the low-lying regions beneath the city walls. Here and there a hill pops up out of the vaporous sea. It is the great Tuscan ocean, and I happily snap away until the sun rises.
By this time my fingers have chilled and are clumsy as I pack up my camera bag. Winter is definitely on the way, even in Italy. I won't have any warm clothes until we reach Switzerland, where we have shipped ahead some winter gear. It is a race between the oncoming winter and our travel schedule. I may end up rather cold in Venice.
After lunch we decide to set off on another expedition. The plan is, following the guide to hikes we have purchased here, to ride the bus to Monticchiello, and then hike back. Unfortunately, after reaching the bus station, we discovered that the bus only travels to Monticchiello once a week and today is not the day. Time to reshuffle the plan.
We climb up through the front gate of Montepulciano and turn into one of the wine shops in town. Mary had discovered that the shop had an extensive wine cellar/museum nestled beneath it. We clamber down a series of brick-lined steps into the bowels of the city. The wine cellars are amazing, built on several levels. Narrow passages, lined with large oak barrels run off in different directions. It is a maze below this store—you would never guess at the subterranean riches found below street level. We spend a considerable amount of time exploring these secret passages before we reemerge into the sun.
We cross over the spine of the town and descend the north-facing slope. A long, straight road runs down toward the church of San Biagio, built outside the walls in 1518. It is a beautiful church, a place of great peace and quiet, and we take seats in the oak pews for a spell, soaking up the silence. A small puzzle presents itself: over the high altar is a Latin inscription that reads, “Hinc Deus Homo et Homo Deus.” I translate this as “In this place God [meets] man and man [meets] God.”
After visiting the church, we set off on the road to Monticchiello, trying to get far enough away from town to get a nice view for photographs. Eventually I discover an excellent vantage point, but the clouds are rolling over the sun and killing the light. I will have to hope for better light later in the week if I am going to get this shot.
We take a different road back toward town winding through yellowing vineyards and olive groves. The sun is still warm on our backs, pleasant, a shadow of the burn of a few months ago. This is beautiful country and it is wonderful to walk along these quiet lanes in the late October sun.