Piero’s face turned scarlet, his big feet shuffling in the dirt as I told
him how much I enjoyed the wild birds he sent over for dinner the night before.
He’s a bashful guy who speaks no English. My Italian was limited and I hoped he
My friend Claudio was living in an old restored farmhouse tucked away in the
hills near Lucca, Italy.
His apartment was in the middle, with farmer Piero and his wife on one-end and
Piero’s parents on the other. When he invited me for a visit, my imagination
conjured up a small villa with totally modern conveniences.
I envisioned myself in a pretty sundress, draped over a colorful lounge chair
on the veranda, sipping something cool, surrounded by cascading flowers. I
fantasized that we would take our meals on the terrace and sit long into the
night, star gazing as we discussed love, life and dreams. Oh yes, I was
thinking of something rustic but beautifully pulled together.
You can imagine my surprise when I arrived to find a very crude, broken-down
farm and not the charming villa of my dreams. Claudio pulled into the yard and
up to the front door of his apartment. There was no verandah in sight. No
garden either. Just some dusty farm equipment, a couple of trees and a few pots
of flowers. No brightly colored lounge chairs or cascading beds of flowers in
The apartment was tall and narrow, with two bedrooms up a steep staircase
and the bathroom downstairs directly behind the kitchen and not very convenient
for middle-of-the-night usage. Because the building is considered historical,
Italian laws forbid changing anything to the outside of the building. What one
does inside is up to personal whimsy.
The state-of-the-art country kitchen I had visualized Claudio preparing
exquisite meals in, turned out to be more like a cellar. It had a small cook
stove in one corner and sink in another.
However, I soon got used to the rhythm of country life. We didn’t take our
meals outside because there were too many flying insects and mosquitoes for
that. Instead Claudio prepared delicious foods and served them on the big round
table in the kitchen. Sometimes we would carry our wine (and insect repellant)
outside to enjoy the soft evening air. We did sit for hours talking about life,
love and dreams. In the darkness I never noticed that we weren’t in a flower
lush garden. The stars were beautiful and the air smelled of growing things:
ripening grapes, sweet grasses and the little pots of petunias.
One morning the sounds of laughing voices and barking dogs pulled me from
sleep. Running to the window I saw a lively scene in the yard below. Vendemmia,
the grape harvest, had begun.
I jumped into my clothes, pulled on a pair of Claudio’s giant rubber boots and
bounded out into the golden September sunshine. The grapes were luscious…deep
blue/red and bulging with sweet juice. Claudio laughed as he popped grapes into
my hungry mouth. The harvest was plentiful and by early afternoon the holding
tanks were full and the picking stopped.
That night we dined on Uccelli, the wild birds. Claudio stuffed them with
fragrant flowers, aromatic herbs and homemade sausage. I had always thought
Italians were heartless to eat songbirds and I eyed them suspiciously. However,
my squeamishness totally disappeared with the first taste. I almost hated to
confess they were delicious, especially paired with the dark red wine from last
These birds are a delicacy in Tuscany
and can be hunted only for a short period in September and I wanted to thank
Piero. I waxed poetic in my basic Italian, about how tasty they were, how
succulent, how juicy, how sweet the flesh and on and on. The more I said the
redder his face became.
Later, Claudio asked me what I said to Piero that caused such a reaction.
I replied that I was telling him how much I enjoyed his Uccello.
"Oh Jacqueline, you didn’t say Uccello did you? Cara, the little birds are
Uccelli – with an "i" on the end. Uccello is a Tuscan slang word for