Montefollonico, Tuscany, Italy



by cheri sabraw

In Italy this time of year–when the fields boast their fertility, when the grape vine tendrils twirl and pirouette  above their training wires like ballet dancers, when olive trees explode with star-shaped mini-buds sure to produce an oil fitting for dipping–the tourists swarm like the bees which pollinate so much here in Tuscany.

June is Busting Out all Over!

The Sangiovese vineyards of the Val d’Orcia

Thus, in an effort to spend a quiet three days looking across the valleys to Montepulciano and to visit Pienza–all while trying to decide if the topic of study this past week, Albert Camus, believed in hope–we decided to stay in a town of 700 residents–Montefollonico.

image imageIn Montefollonico, only 2-5 small restaurants, one large church, and a park sit on top of the hill. From our small hotel below, we hear the resonant rhythm of the church bells peal from little brother Montefollonico to big important brother–the one popular with all the pretty ladies and bedecked in finery and status–Montepulciano!


Montepulciano–How hopeful a sight!

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
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42 Responses to Montefollonico, Tuscany, Italy

  1. Christopher says:

    “…..trying to decide if………Albert Camus, believed in hope……..”

    I have this feeling he didn’t. Were Camus still living and could see today’s world, his putative lack of hope would be justified, I think.

    “…….we hear the resonant rhythm of the church bells peel…..”

    The peel (peal?) of church bells is, for me, ineffably cathartic. How truly wonderful it is to awaken to church bells. They cleanse the soul.

    If we all could hear church bells first thing each morning, so many of the psychological ills that afflict us, and correspondingly so many of the social ills that afflict our contemporary society, might just clear up.

    Would a still-living Camus agree?!!

    • Cheri says:

      Thank you Christopher.
      Of course, peal. Google God Cheri!
      You are right about the bells.
      They seem to reinforce the rhythms that we can depend upon like the tide and a heartbeat.

    • Richard says:

      Here is Dorothy Sayers about change ringing.

      “The art of change ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, is unintelligible to to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears that the proper thing to do with a carefully tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. By the English campanologist, the playing of tunes is considered to be a childish game, only fit for foreigners; the proper use of bells is to work out the mathematical permutations and combinations. When he speaks of his bells., he does not mean musician’s music – still less what the ordinary man calls music. To the ordinary man, in fact, the pealing of bells is a monotonous jangle and a nuisance, tolerable only when mitigated by remote distance and sentimental association. …. To any disinterested spectator, peeping in upon the rehearsal, there might have been something a little absurd [my italics] about the eight absorbed faces …….”

    • Richard says:

      We’ve booked a cottage for a week in a little place near Monmouth.

      These are the Monmouth cathedral bells:

      • Cheri says:

        I will listen to them this weekend!

        • Richard says:

          I have discovered that Monmouth’s Victorian cathedral isn’t in Monmouth at all.

          Still, Hereford cathedral and its mappa mundi aren’t far away, so you might prefer to listen to Hereford’s bells instead:

          One of our local Victorian parish churches has a twelve bell peal. In those days Croydon had its own bell foundry, Gillett & Johnston.

  2. Richard says:

    Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors takes away some of the magic of Church Bells.
    As a translator of Dante, Dorothy Sayers may have perceived the benefits of abandoning hope. Hope resides in the future rather than in present absurdities.
    Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

    • Cheri says:

      Sufficient is the present moment Richard.

      • Richard says:

        I am currently reading Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale – A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life” (2004). It traces human ancestry backwards, meeting groups of creatures who join the pilgrimage and our ancestry. Selected species tell their tale. The form of the book is inspired by Chaucer and is compulsive reading.

        In the Dodo’s Tale, Dawkins asks the question:

        “Why bother to lose wings? They took a long time to evolve, why not hang on to them in case one day they might come in useful again?”

        He answers:

        “Alas (for the dodo) that is not the way evolution thinks. Evolution doesn’t think at all, and certainly not ahead. If it did, the dodos would have kept their wings, and the Portuguese and Dutch sailors would not have had sitting ducks for their vandalism.”

        Is it not thus incumbent upon us humans to think ahead in order to survive?

        The peacock’s tale is also very informative!😀

        • Cheri says:

          This book sounds very interesting to me, Richard. When I arrive home, I will order it on Amazon.

          Is thinking ahead part of hope?

          • Richard says:

            Despair or hope take over when we no longer try to reason out whether things will get better or worse.
            If despair and hope are the abandonment of thought, hope cannot therefore be part of thinking ahead.
            But then, Dawkins has little tolerance for essentialism, so one must either endeavour to merge thinking ahead and hope or descend to the absurd, which, I am told, has its own store of happiness.

            • Richard says:

              ….or thinking ahead a function of hope………..

            • Cheri says:

              I don’t understand this comment. Hope may have very little to do with thought or reason. Regarding the absurd world–it is absurd, full of occurrences that make no sense (or reason). Camus seems to be trying to find a way to establish meaning in an absurd world.

              • Richard says:

                The making of a distinction between hope and thought is itself an act of the reasoning mind, as is the notion of the absurd.

                If logic is a process of reasoning, perhaps Gödel’s incompleteness is the true measure of the of the limit of the reasoning mind and confirmation of the absurd.

          • Richard says:

            Thus we come to the matter of pain, such a problem for theologians.

            If we make the broad assumption that our ancestors had, and our cousins have, no concept of death, and therefore of survival, their ability to think ahead was limited. Pain therefore evolved as a mechanism for the avoidance of danger, or threats to survival, an advantage as against those organisms that did not have it. Think ahead, then, if you can do it.

            The mutilations of leprosy are caused by the absence of pain.

            If you wonder if all this casts doubt on the existence of an omnipotent God, consider the ever-present consistency of Nature, the theatre in which evolution takes place. When I wake up tomorrow, it is a reasonable assumption that falling, as I have hitherto observed, will still be downwards.

            • Cheri says:

              Well, yes. The ever-present consistency of Nature can be viewed as evidence of a higher power or as a thing of science or of math.

              • Richard says:

                Fair comment, except that science and math are human constructs of Nature and do not stand alone, whereas Nature does.

              • Richard says:

                In The Rhizobium’s Tale, Cheri, Dawkins speaks with some approval of Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God. He says: ” …… Miller’s God (if not Darwin’s) is the God revealed in – or perhaps synonymous with – the deep lawfulness of Nature……..”

                This idea of the pervading consistency of nature is, I suggest, in direct contradiction to the idea of the absurd.

                Dawkins says that Miller has deep religious convictions, so this is quite a departure from his usual denigration of anything remotely religious.

                I have ordered Miller’s book. There isn’t a Kindle version so the small print means a bit of a struggle.

          • Richard says:

            Dawkins likes to say evolution is a fact.
            It is more true to say that the concept of evolution corresponds to an overwhelming number of facts.
            Facts are what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch to gain knowledge of nature. How the mind chooses to order those facts is indeed a fact, but it resides exclusively in the brain, as does the concept of the absurd.

            • Cheri says:

              Well, I don’t want to debate the order of words ( I’m actually still jet-lagged…how’s that for a lame default?) but I agree with Dawkins on this point–that evolution is a fact.

              • Richard says:

                I suppose I ought to say what I mean by fact, but you have, after all, been chasing the Sun, so there is no need. 🙂

              • Christopher says:

                If this quite *lengthy piece* is anything to go by, Dawkins is becoming a bit of a joke.

              • Richard says:

                Yes, very long, Christopher. I underwent quite a few mutations as I read it.
                It is difficult to criticise Dawkins’ methods of argument without being personal, for that is a technique he seems to favour. Such a technique serves no purpose and advances no argument. It diverts attention from the issues and promotes controversy for controversy’s sake.

              • Christopher says:

                @Richard: Of Dawkins’ controversial public utterances of late, you said, “……..Such a technique serves no purpose and advances no argument. It diverts attention from the issues and promotes controversy for controversy’s sake……”

                But…….it does enable him to sell more books. Just follow the money.

                There’s method in his madness.

              • Richard says:

                Christopher, I have read The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and now The Ancestors’s Tale (almost).

                Like Darwin’s Origin of Species and Descent of Man, each reads like a novel and is entertaining in its own right, a remarkable achievement, considering the complexity of the subject-matter. As readily accessible scientific expositions, they are essential reading for the lay observer. It is important not to approach them with the object of testing and vindicating your own religious or moral perspectives – that way you will not be drawn into his occasional lapses into the rhetoric of prejudice and will maintain a critical eye.

                His devotion to logic is commendable but there is more, as we know from Cheri: “…when the fields boast their fertility, when the grape vine tendrils twirl and pirouette above their training wires like ballet dancers, when olive trees explode with star-shaped mini-buds sure to produce an oil fitting for dipping” …

                I have also read The God Delusion, a rather sad reflection on the primitive aspects of the great religions and a departure from his intellectual rigour. Perhaps he needs to vent his spleen in order to release energy for his other, important, work. His strict religious upbringing may have something to do with it. How you can scar a child by imposing you own beliefs!

                I have not The Extended Phenotype, which, I see from the Guardian article, he regards as his best contribution. He refers to it in the Ancestor’s Tale. There he considers the beaver’s dam and the water held back by it part of the organism of the beaver and also the product of natural selection. More of a philosophical outlook, I would guess, than a zoological assessment. I shall have to read the book to find out, if I can find the strength.

              • Richard says:

                Have you read Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son and how to survive the childhood impositions of a puritanical, exclusive sect?

              • Christopher says:

                “……Have you read Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son……”


                But I have read Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Science Delusion”. Have you?

              • Richard says:

                @ Christopher. ……“No.
                But I have read Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Science Delusion”. Have you?”

                No. But I have read Alister McGrath’s Dawkins’ God. Have you? If so, perhaps you’ll remind me what it said.

            • Cheri says:

              The absurd nature of the world to which, I believe, Camus refers is not the scientific one nor the ordered one we see in Nature. His stories, like Kafka’s, take a hard look at the absurdity in the peopled world– the one where an American president can ignore a growing menace, where a prison worker allows two murderers to escape, where a decent policeman can be hacked up on a street while people watch—that world.

          • Richard says:

            So much of what we hold store by is chimerical and sometimes we cannot even agree how to spell it.

            PRINCE HENRY
            Why, thou owest God a death.

            ‘Tis not due yet. I would be loath to pay Him before His day. What need I be so forward with Him that calls not on me? Well, ’tis no matter. Honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honor prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honour set to a leg? no. Or an arm? no. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word “honour”? What is that “honour”? Air. A trim reckoning. Who hath it? He that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible, then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore, I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.

  3. shoreacres says:

    The photo of the man watering his plants is touching: a real delight. There is hope, personified. Personally, I’ll take that man and his morning routine over Camus any day — especially if my visit with the man is accompanied by the bells.

    (Now there’s a question. You may have heard them peal, but have you heard them tintinnabulate?)

  4. Cheri says:

    Yes I have heard the tintinabular sound of the church bells Linda.
    They ring all over Florence tonight!!

  5. Cyberquill says:

    Only “2-5 small restaurants” sit on top of that hill? So how many are there? I come here for accurate information, not for ranges and guesswork. How hard can it be to count restaurants in a tiny village?

    Also, are you saying that all of Montefollonico’s restaurants are small, or did you, for reasons known only to yourself, leave the big ones unmentioned? (Which would explain why on this site eight restaurants are listed.)

    And what about the parts of Montefollonico that are located “below” the top of the hill? Do they feature anything but the hotel you were staying at?

    • Cheri says:

      I knew I should have done more specific research before I posted that blog. You are correct: there are more than 2-3 restaurants. We walked up there on the last night and had an average meal at Gobbi 13. The restaurants are small. Wiki says that there are 7000 people in Montefollonico but our host told me 700. Remember, Cy, I am not a travel writer (thank god).

      • Cyberquill says:

        As per my research, there are 7,500 people in the town of Torrita di Siena. Could be that 700 of them live in Montefollonico, which is a district of Torrita di Siena, not a town by itself.

  6. Cheri says:

    I saw that Wiki research too. When you enter Montefollonico, it says Torrita de Siena but all of the small towns have that same sign. My source (the waiter…you know what great sources waiters are…) told me 700. That can’t be right but neither can Wiki.

  7. Christopher says:

    @Richard – You asked me in our thread about Dawkins if I’d read Alister McGrath’s “Dawkins’ God”.


    But I looked it up in Wiki, and learned that he (Alister McGrath) said that Darwinism neither proves nor disproves the existence of God.

    In any case, the fact that many reputable biologists as learned as Dawkins believe in a God, shows that a belief in the various scientific notions, including a belief in evolution, is not inconsistent with a belief in a God.

    Think only of the fact that the Vatican accepts the Theory of Evolution.

    In all his jeremiads against religion, Dawkins ignores the fact that religion is the foundation of all culture. So that a universal disbelief in a God and the vanishing of all religions, would mean the collapse of all culture, and everything that gives life meaning for ordinary people. .

    In all too many of his public utterances of late, Dawkins shows he is no more than an educated fool.

    You’ve said in another comment in which you invoked some of Dawkins’s books, that “……each reads like a novel and is entertaining in its own right……”.

    Indeed, Dawkins may have a talent for fiction that supersedes any talent he may once have had for thinking.

    • Richard says:

      McGrath also draws attention to the false dichotomy that has occurred between the humanities and the arts on the one hand and science on the other and how they, too, are seen to converge.

  8. Richard says:

    Your comments prompted me to re-read Alister McGrath’s book, Christopher, and I am glad I have. For that I am most grateful.

    In a short, but long-conceived, account of the relation between science and religion he successfully demolishes, piece by piece, the rickety structure which Dawkins has raised against religion. The book is lucid, devoid of rhetoric and personal vilification, thereby gaining strength, and scientifically literate. Much of what you say about the place of religion is endorsed and rigorously justified in the course of McGrath’s detailed and critical analysis of Dawkins’ atheism. Nor does he neglect the downside of religious institutions and the virtues of individual atheists.

    As a by-product, it is also an articulate survey of Dawkins’ scientific achievements and perspectives, which he admires. For anyone who has neither time nor patience to read Dawkins himself, McGrath provides an adequate summary. Sadly, to avoid Dawkins is to miss out on some beautiful and fascinating descriptions of and reasoning about Nature.

    By attacking Dawkins for what he seems to be and for his views rather than for what he has achieved is to fall into the very trap of prejudice that he himself has fallen into regarding religion.

    Near the conclusion of his analysis of The Selfish Gene, McGrath quotes this illuminating passage, which aligns with many of your own ideals:

    “……… We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism – something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed in the whole history of the world. We are built as gene machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of selfish replicators. ….

    And again, concerning the mystery and wonder of Nature (which Cheri so superbly captures in words and pictures here) from The Devil’s Chaplain:

    “……… Modern physics teaches us that there is more to truth than meets the eye; or than meets the all too limited human mind, evolved as it was to cope with medium-sized objects moving at medium speeds through medium distances in Africa. In the face of these profound and sublime mysteries, the low-grade intellectual poodling of pseudo-philosophical poseurs seems unworthy of adult attention.

    There is more convergence of scientific and religious thought than perhaps Dawkins cares to admit. McGrath points out that religion inspired much of rational scientific progress and that the supposed conflict arose out of social and political pressures, as between Galileo and the Inquisition but mostly in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

  9. Christopher says:

    @Richard – While reading that long Guardian piece on Dawkins, I had noted particularly this paragraph:

    “…….Over the years, Dawkins, a zoologist by training, has expressed admiration for Darwin in the way a schoolboy might worship a sporting giant. In his first memoir, Dawkins noted the ‘serendipitous realisation’ that his full name – Clinton Richard Dawkins – shared the same initials as Charles Robert Darwin. He owns a prized first edition of On The Origin of Species, which he can quote from memory. For Dawkins, the book is totemic, the founding text of his career………”

    I put it to you that, for Dawkins, Darwin’s “On The Origin of Species” is the Good Book, in the way that, for a Christian fundamentalist, the Bible is the Good Book. So that, for Dawkins, every word in “On The Origin of Species” is true, in the way that, for a Christian fundamentalist, every word in the Bible is true.

    I put it to you also, that Dawkins worships Darwin, in the way a Christian fundamentalist worships Jesus, or God.

    In this *public lecture*, Alister McGrath said Atheism turns out to be merely a belief system. If so, Atheism is simply a religion – a religion that says there is no-God, as opposed to a religion that says there is.

    We may now see Dawkins as a de facto religious leader – an evangelist spreading the gospel of Atheism, and of Darwin and of Science, and (in effect) saying to all his millions of acolytes and would-be acolytes, “Follow me and I will lead you to the Promised Land”.

    What could be the provenance of Dawkins messianism, nay fanaticism, in his crusade for Atheism? The answer may lie in the passage you quoted from Dawkins’ book, “The Devil’s Chaplain”, which I reproduce here:

    “……… Modern physics teaches us that there is more to truth than meets the eye; or than meets the all too limited human mind, evolved as it was to cope with medium-sized objects moving at medium speeds through medium distances in Africa. In the face of these profound and sublime mysteries, the low-grade intellectual poodling of pseudo-philosophical poseurs seems unworthy of adult attention…….”

    Is this not but a re-wording of Shakespeare’s, “………”There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy……”?

    In the above passage he wrote, isn’t Dawkins saying that we, as humans, don’t know everything? And that we can never know everything because our brains aren’t up to it? If so, Dawkins himself can never know there’s no God because, as a human, his (Dawkins’) brain isn’t up to it.

    Therefore there has to be at least a smidgen of doubt lurking in Dawkins’ mind each time he stands up on his hind legs and proclaims there’s no God. But this doubt is, I put it to you, unconscious because it’s repressed. The fanaticism with which Dawkins pursues his Atheism would be his means of keeping a lid on this repressed doubt.

    The more this doubt threatens to burst through, the more strident may yet become Dawkins’s philippics, and the more withering may yet become his ridicule. It’ll be to convince himself as much as anyone else.

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