Let me begin by saying that I have never received an upgrade of any kind, at any time . . . ever. Imagine my surprise and delight, when the lovely young woman at the car rental counter in Florence told me that I was getting a free upgrade. I would have been content with a small, inconspicuous car capable of handling the hairpin curves and narrow roads in Tuscany. I hurried down the row of rental cars eagerly anticipating an upgraded zippy Italian model. Instead, my documents matched a brand new, bright white Chevy mini-van-like vehicle. Very white, very big, very Chevy. The first image to come to mind was that of a neighborhood ice cream truck. As I opened the back to throw in my bags, I half expected to see cardboard boxes filled with popsicles and ice cream cones. The “upgrade” was fully-loaded. The dash was a mosaic of buttons. Automatic everything. I was afraid to push anything not easily identified, dreading that tinny ice cream truck music would blast out of some unseen speaker. I eased the upgrade out of the rental parking lot and onto the Autostrada.
It’s a bit of an overstatement to describe the drive to Arezzo on the A1 (Autostrada) as leisurely . . . but it was a Sunday morning in late November so the drive was fairly easy. I had to admit that my upgrade, a cross between a limo and a 747 jet, was quite comfortable.
Before meeting Gabriella, I checked into the Hotel Le Capanne in Arezzo. I first stayed at Le Capanne when Gabriella worked at the hotel. It is a carefully and beautifully restored country farmhouse only a few miles from the city of Arezzo. After a quick coffee. . . grazie, Cristina . . . I was off to San Polo.
North of Arezzo, San Polo is a small village close to Gabriella and Marco’s farm, Podere Montagnano. With her great directions in hand, I soon pulled into the small parking lot next to the town’s war memorial. On the opposite corner was the church, Parrochia San Polo. Olives trees covered the gentle south-facing slopes back toward the city.
This seemed like a good time to explore all of the many buttons on the dash. First try was the radio. Suddenly, at full volume, Aretha Franklin was singing Natural Woman. Home again in Tuscany, surrounded by ancient buildings and olive trees, I’m listening to my favorite Aretha song! Although it was a bit surreal, I was having a moment. Just as Aretha hit the last note of the song, I noticed a small grey car rounding the corner by the church. Gabriella! Waving, she called out “Annaaaaaa!”.
Seeing the face of my cherished friend, I realized my error. I was wrong about never having received an upgrade. When I first arrived in Tuscany, more than a decade ago, I had received the ultimate upgrade . . . a total life upgrade . . . complete with a renewal option and fully loaded.