I write this sitting in a rental car near the Cathedral of Montalcino, a small Medieval fortified hilltop town in the heart of Tuscany’s brunello wine district. Sweat is running freely down my forehead and nose, no matter that the windows are open and the car is in a shaded alley. Wife and children are shopping for groceries while I have saved our vehicle from a parking ticket.
Montalcino is a maze of terracotta masonry and grey stucco, steep narrow streets, and glimpses of amazing vistas across the vineyards and valleys far below. A guide leaflet in Babelfish English informs me that the place started as a stronghold of the nearby monastery of St. Anthemius, was made a diocese by Pius II, and received town rights in 1462 as an outpost of the city-state of Siena.
I love my children to nutterhood, but travelling with them is such a drag. On vacation, I like to take long scenic walks, study art and architecture and regional history, read for hours, haunt museums and libraries and ruins and cemeteries, attend concerts, eat well and buy nothing. This is diametrically opposed to what the kids want. They want to swim in the pool (which demands parental attention) and have a lot of ice cream, period. And any other activity sets off the Whine.
The places we’re travelling to with the kids, I feel like I’ve only been there provisionally — seen them briefly through a blurry set of ice-cream-smudged baby-pink plastic goggles. “Tuscany? Yeah, I’ve sort of been there. Missed most of it. The pool was OK, as I recall.” Still I have this sense of duty that a good dad brings the kids along, even if all they really remember afterwards is some candy bag or playground. And a clenched-jawed father trying vainly to alert them to details of the surroundings that they will learn to appreciate shortly before leaving for college.