By M.J. Dunphy
So one would think that a surprise trip to Vieques, Puerto Rico for a 70th birthday celebration would be enough adventure for one lifetime. Not so in my creative and over-the-top loving family.
It all began in November 2008 with an intimate dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Philly for my 74th birthday. At dessert I was handed a small red box. Inside was a tiny scroll informing me that I had a whole year to anticipate a week in Tuscany for my 75th. Just imagine what the imagination can do in a year!
In what seemed like the blink of an eye we were landing in Milan. We boarded the train to Arezzo, one of the most important Etruscan cities from Roman times, and gave ourselves over to the magic that is Italy!
As our taxi wound up the long driveway and reached the tall black iron gates, we got our first glimpse of Villa Rossi-Mattei that was to be our home for the next week. Dating back to 1800, this gem originally belonged to an ancient noble family and is situated on the archaeological hill of Castelsecco, surrounded by a beautiful green park, not quite a mile from the center of Arezzo. I felt like I had just dropped into a centuries old romance novel.
Our charming and knowledgeable brother-sister hosts, Liliana and Dante Masieri own this amazing property with its medieval and modern touches, its shimmering olive trees and 360-degree view of the legendary Tuscan countryside. These “youngsters” are the current generation of family who have lovingly cared for this jewel of an estate since 1860.
Arezzo is a walking town and walk we did. I can still taste the samples from the salumeria in the piazza. I even had a photo op on an antique fainting couch at the outside flea market — just like a birthday contessa!
Highlights? Too many to enumerate in detail for a blog, but of particular note: wandering down a tiny street and finding a cameo maker, stopping for an afternoon espresso, replaying “Room with a View” in my head and buying miniature Pinocchio drawings from the actual artist near the Ponte Vecchio.
But I have saved the best for last: my birthday dinner. The chefs, my grand-son-in-law and his best friend, along with all the family and friends who were there (and it was a crowd, believe me), cooked and served and set a magnificent long table that rivaled royal meals in any castle. I was truly surrounded by love and warmth and good cheer spilling over everywhere. What a blessing to be in this glorious environment with the most important people in my world, enjoying and appreciating all of God’s gifts. Well worth adding another five years to my already brimming-over life! Abbondanza!