Sarteano, 11 maggio 2022
Dear Reader ~
A long, long time ago I might have sent you a letter from here, from the very top of this Tuscan castle, via pigeon post. I am writing you from the dovecote at the top of Castello Sarteano and have decided that my letter carrier would have lived in the niche second from the right, top row. I would probably have wrapped a silver collar around her neck, maybe with the letter R stamped on it. I would also have sent her off with fresh kernels of corn for the flight, a ribbon for you, and of course pressed poppy petals in the envelope. Poppy Season is here! The fields are filled with red bursts of power that energize the landscape, and the whole drive to Tuscany I kept pointing at perfect patches of poppies. With the eagerness of a child I’d shout “let’s stop here, no there, ah right there!” My camera roll is a blur of orange-red trailing right up to the Castle.
Sarteano is not the most picturesque town, but the walk up to the castello is definitely worthwhile. Just a few cobbled streets off the main piazza, up the Via del Castello (of course it’s called that) there is a black and white cat sitting at the steps of an old chapel. She will escort you in through the iron-wrought gates just opposite, through a gentle dirt path lined in wispy but bright poppies, and then through a sparse oak forest. It’s cool and shady here and you will almost want to lie down for a nap on the spongey and moist blanket of acorns. The cat will run off chasing a magpie and as your eyes follow the flash of black and white the turret comes into focus and in that whispered moment you remember a dream.
Of course we were the only ones there because isn’t that the beauty of exploring places that you just happen upon? I hadn’t planned on going and didn’t even know it was open for visitors. I have a habit of chasing castles. If I see one from the highway I will turn off and drive up steep and winding roads to the top of any hillside town in search of the rocca that beckons. Generally it’s not a successful enterprise, either because the castle is closed to visitors or it is in ruins. Sometimes they just look better at a distance. But the fun is in the hunt, and this is why I am also really into flea-markets. Every now and then I’ll find that one beautiful piece of junk that is treasure to me and I have to keep on the trail. Well, this particular castle is a treasure. In part because it’s so well-preserved and also because it’s bare. It’s completely naked inside. It isn’t furnished in period pieces nor is it littered with yellowed informational posters that are poorly translated. There is nothing but stone walls, cold and cavernous rooms, and the occasional fireplace. It is a gift to be able to experience a space as such. It’s a blank canvas and so much easier to imagine how things were, how the inhabitants lived, how the space was designed. It’s like reading the book and not watching the movie version of it. The empty space became a screen on which I could project my own understanding of how things may have looked. It was refreshing.
There are at least 300 stone steps that spiral up four floors from the underground escape routes to the dovecotes at the top of the castle. Each stone block, carved in one piece with a rounded tip, is stacked one on top of the other, and like spokes on a wheel spin upwards in a narrow staircase. Yes, my legs were shaking but it was worth the climb to the top. The view of the pretty Tuscan landscape was entirely mine to enjoy, no shoulder to shoulder snap-a-quick-blurry-selfie-to-prove-I-was-here moment like last year at St. Peter’s Cupola. It was just me and the Pigeon Post. Well, their ghosts at least. The pigeons are long gone but the wall is still filled with cozy little niches where they once waited for their turn to fly into the horizon to deliver a message.
I will mail my message out to you from the piazza down below. I saw a mailbox there, and you know I alway carry stamps with me. Wish I could send it via the original air mail: doves.
Wish you were here,
PS: I’ve decided I wouldn’t have enjoyed being a princess. I would have been dreadfully cold inside a castle and I might not have been free to run through wild poppies fields.