She’d reached the high point of her career, having conquered the long-aspired-to cover of Time. Everyone knew about her. Yet she—Eleanor Calvani—knew little about herself and her roots. Her grandfather Paolo left Castelfiorentino in the 1930s, taking his family to New York, where he made his fortune. Eleanor had grown up with the finest of everything: when she finished her studies at the prestigious Columbia University, she became one of the highest-paid managers in America. Still, she had an anxious feeling that only the childhood tales of her old grandfather could alleviate. She then decided to get away—for a trip in Tuscany aimed at discovering her roots and even herself.
Her plane touched down in Pisa. From here, Eleanor took the first train for Florence and got off in Empoli, waiting for the connection to Castelfiorentino, heading toward Siena. “Castelfiorentino is between Tuscany’s main cities of art,” her grandfather would always say to her proudly. By instinct, she hailed a taxi. At the wheel was a friendly globetrotter named Matteo, who had just returned from a long exploration of his origins in the heart of Tuscany. Since he frequently liked to leave his customers with evocative travel memories, he took her toward Castelfiorentino via a secondary route, the Via Francigena. Pilgrims have passed down that road since medieval times; its richness in monuments like the Pieve di Coiano are a testament to this tradition.
Captivated by the hilly landscape, Eleanor allowed the pair a detour to Villa Meleto, where the famous Cosimo Ridolfi had founded Italy’s first agriculture school. It was home to one of the most beautiful Italian-style gardens, where scented Ridolfi Roses grew. As they crossed over hills and fields, Matteo told her the story of how the famous Florentine Renaissance painter Benozzo Gozzoli completed two of his most valuable frescoes in Castelfiorentino. She could have gone in to admire these works at the new Museo BeGo, which was built specifically to house them. Matteo then suggested that she visit the Monastery of S. Maria della Marca, from the time of Saint Francis, and the Sanctuary of S. Verdiana, which housed priceless artistic treasures in its adjoining museum. “This is an area that’s rich in art and spirituality,” Matteo kept repeating. Eleanor was struck by the young man, who had a flair for quintessentially Latin humor. It reminded her of her grandfather: they seemed united by a different way of seeing life—slower, making it easier to savor.
Matteo made a daring proposal: “I’ll take you to a place that will take your breath away.” He moved toward the Castello di Oliveto, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the famous architect behind the dome of Florence’s cathedral. They went up the towers where they took in a panoramic view with borders reaching to San Gimignano. “People from all over the world come here to get married,” Matteo whispered.
When the trip ended, the two exchanged phone numbers. “I’ll need it for when I come back,” Eleanor said. “I doubt you’ll even manage to leave!” Matteo responded. “I could never leave New York: it already has everything!” she concluded, without much conviction. And from his face, she understood that she probably shouldn’t have lied, not even to him.