A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg



Since arriving in Europe, we had traveled by plane, train, taxi, launch and gondola. For the remainder of our time in Italy, we would drive, so we could explore at will. The spine of Dan’s Fodor’s guide was creased and cracked from a winter of reading. It fell open on dogeared pages marking medieval hill towns, ancient abbeys, and the best ristorantes, trattorias, and osterias in the Chianti region of Tuscany.

    We rented a compact SUV, which seemed to be the standard tourist vehicle, and loaded our suitcases in the back. I folded the big paper map to the section we would need to reach the villa, which was just southwest of Castellina in Chianti. On the way, we stopped at a road-side trattoria for lunch. We ordered food and Dan had his usual deep conversation about wine with the waiter. The Italian family at the table next to us were just leaving, and the father stopped at our table and complimented Dan on his knowledge of wines. He invited us to have dinner at his restaurant in Castellina, Le Tre Porte, one night, and we said it was already on our list. 

    Later, we drove up a small road surrounded by olive groves and came upon the  villa. The photos hadn’t done it, or the views, justice. A panoramic vista of lush green hills, vineyards and ancient walled towns stretched out below us. The villa itself was amazing: hundreds of years old, but comfortable and charming, with a kitchen fireplace you could drive a small car into. Five friendly cats roamed the property - it was perfect.

    There were a few bedrooms to choose from and we picked the one that had the best blackout curtains. The villa’s stone walls were a foot thick, and there wasn’t a highway or another house near us, so noise definitely wouldn’t be an issue - we were going to sleep very well indeed.


    It was very warm so we drove the five minutes to Castellina to get drinks and breakfast items for the fridge. A 15th century outpost during the wars between Florence and Siena, the town was once surrounded by medieval walls. Now it was a quaint village made of stone. Everything at the little market was local and fresh and looked tempting. 

    Before I met Dan, I would go grocery shopping once a week, stocking the fridge and eating whatever would spoil the soonest. At the ranch, Dan would go to town for supplies and, since forgetting something would mean another hour-long drive to town, he planned ahead and came home with bags of groceries. We came from a culture that relied on our refrigerators and freezers for every meal. 

    I loved the idea of living in a sweet little village and walking to the outdoor market every day to shop for ingredients for that day’s meals. Dan went into the little wine shop, full of Italian wines from every region, and I could see he was having the same little fantasy. We bought a bottle of wine, a crusty loaf of bread, a wedge of buttery cheese, and a container of olives in oil and herbs, and took our bounty back to the villa for a picnic. 


    Our Fodor’s guide had recommended Ristorante Le Tre Porte (The Three Doors) so it really was on our list, but after meeting the friendly owner, we decided it would be our first dining experience in Castellina. We called and made reservations then unpacked and made ourselves at home. That night we got all gussied up and, when the owner saw it was us, he welcomed us like long-lost friends. Once we decided what we would be eating, he and Dan discussed the wine menu with all the solemnity of two generals planning a siege.

    The waiter came and took our orders and asked if we’d be having dessert. I asked for the Sorbetto di Limone, but he said they were out, so ordered something else. Dan would have his usual, profiteroles, which are flaky cream puffs with a thick chocolate sauce on top.

    While I ate pasta and Dan had the specialty of the house, Florentine Steak, the owner went down the street to the local market, bought lemons, and whipped up a fresh batch of sorbetto. After dinner, he surprised me with it, apologizing profusely that it wasn’t properly frozen. It was the best Sorbetto di Limone of our trip, and I sipped it from the little dessert glass, like a frozen lemon margarita. 

    When we returned for lunch later in the week, the owner saw us eating on the back patio and came over and greeted us effusively again. It was lovely to be in a magical place so far from home, and to feel so welcomed.

    We still didn’t know where we would be staying the following week, but Dan’s travel agent, Janet, continued to check with the hotel Dan liked in Amalfi, hoping for a cancellation.


    Even before we left Colorado to go gallivanting around Europe in May, the 2001 Summer Tour had begun taking shape. It was going to be a relatively small tour, fitting into the month of July. Venues had been booked and tickets sold, but there was still a lot of work going on at HK Management in Los Angeles to prepare. The office was able to keep in touch with Dan on his cell phone for updates and decisions. His main contact was Nina Avramides, whose name appears in most of the “Thanks to” sections of Dan’s album credits.

    On our second day at the villa, Nina sent Dan some merchandise ideas for his input. We viewed them on our iBook G3 and Dan didn’t like any of the T-shirt designs. HK was using a new merchandise company, and they obviously didn’t know Dan. The ideas they sent were good, and they would have worked for a heavy metal band or a rap artist, but they weren’t Dan, who preferred classic fonts and designs to grunge.

    We had designed the 2000 Solo Acoustic Tour T-shirt together, as well as two album covers, so Dan was confident we could whip up a design ourselves. He envisioned something Celtic, with a compass rose. Luckily, I had Photoshop 6.0 installed on the laptop, but I didn’t have my clipart books, scanner, or font CDs. Also, I was used to working on my desktop computer with a mouse, not on a clam-shaped laptop with a trackpad. After putting all my disclaimers out there for Dan to hear, I set up shop on the dining table in the ancient kitchen and we began throwing ideas around.


    Dan wanted to do black tees this year, so we had our background. Then, to create a compass-like design, I drew a gold circle and pushed and stretched four points out for directional arrows. Dan liked it. We tweaked the shape and color for a few hours then added the N, S, E and W cardinal directions in a Celtic font. After spending a few hours compulsively tweaking the positions of the text, artwork, and photo of Dan, we took a break and went to dinner. 

    We went to a beautiful little restaurant in Castellina with two levels and a garden. Enticing smells greeted us before we even opened the doors. The weather was glorious so all the windows were open to the garden when we were seated. By the time we got to the Secondi course, the night had cooled and the windows closed. Dan had ordered a wine that perfectly complimented our meal, and we were enjoying breathing in the complex aromas that lingered in the big round Riedel glasses before taking each sip.

    It was still okay to smoke in restaurants in those day, but in most of the restaurants we’d been to so far, people refrained out of courtesy for their fellow diners. Not so the European couple who had just been seated; they lit up the moment they sat down, ignoring the looks they were getting from the tables around them. We were well across the room from them and yet, by the time they lit up their second cigarettes, the smoke had settled in our glasses, overpowering the scents of the wine. My mother smoked and I always found the smell awful, but Dan was a reformed smoker so it was even worse for him.

    We decided to skip dessert, as did other diners who probably would have lingered. I felt bad for the waiters, who clearly felt helpless to oblige the customers who wanted them to say something to the oblivious couple.

    After an evening stroll around the town, we returned to the villa and worked on the back of the T-shirt for a while. It was just a list of the cities Dan would be playing in, so it didn’t take long. We decided to get some sleep and look at the design in the morning with fresh eyes. 

    Over breakfast, we did more inevitable tweaking, then we e-mailed it off to Nina, feeling pretty good about our DIY control-freak selves.


    The medieval hilltop town of Colle di Val d’Elsa was high on our list of things to see. We wandered for an hour, then made our way to the Arnolfo Ristorante, owned by two brothers, Gaetano and Giovanni Trovato. Gaetano was the chef and Giovanni managed the restaurant, and the Fodor’s guide described it as “an exquisite dining experience.” We were seated in a small white room with only two other tables. A converted 17th century home, the entire restaurant seated only 30 guests, giving it a homey, intimate feel. 

    Dan put his glasses on and began reading the wine list. He was looking for a wine he’d read about in Wine Spectator: “Brunello di Montalcino.” Made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, said to be the best in all of Italy. Giovanni came to the table and he and Dan discussed vineyards and vintages.

    The cork came out with a squeeee-POP, releasing a grape-y bouquet that opened and bloomed into the room. We smiled at each other with raised eyebrows; neither of us could remember a wine announcing itself quite so eagerly. The people at the table next to us actually mentioned the beautiful aroma as it reached them. The deep red liquid was poured into a decanter to breathe, allowing it to oxidize and the bitter tannins to mellow out. Like a genie that’s been in a bottle for too long, it needed to stretch and breathe before it could work its magic.

    The food was incredible, and the wine morphed over the course of the meal, tasting different with each new bite. I wasn’t a connoisseur like Dan, all I’ve ever asked of any wine is that I be able to taste the grape, but even I knew we’d found our new favorite. Now, of course, we would have to visit Montalcino.

    It didn't matter where we went, the drive there was always stunningly beautiful.


    The next day, after a two-hour drive, we discovered that the winery and restaurant we wanted to try in Montalcino were closed. So, we decided to head east to Montepulciano, another of the ancient hilltop towns we were fascinated with. On the way there, we stopped to check out Pienza. It was bookmarked because of its palazzo, museo, and duomo, but while walking down a cobbled street lined with shops, we were almost knocked over by the smell of Pecorino, wafting from one of the cheese shops. It was the sheep’s milk cheese we’d liked so much at Santa Caterina hotel restaurant in Venice, but in huge fragrant wheels. 

    We followed our noses into the shop and tried a sample. It wasn’t the same as the Pecorino Toscano after all, and it definitely wasn’t the salty Pecorino Romano we knew from the grocery stores back home. Pecorino di Pienza has been made the same way for thousands of years and is said to be a unique combination of the milk from Sardinian sheep, grass and clover from the Tuscan hills, and wild fennel and absinthe from the pastures. We went a little crazy and bought a whole wheel, chipping away at the firm, delicate cheese every day with wine and fresh bread from Castellina.


We loved the way the residents of these ancient towns made of stone created gardens using pots.


    Every day, we were delighted by what we discovered in the Tuscan hills. We visited Volpaia, La Crete, and the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, the 12th century Benedictine monastery, where Gregorian chants echoed through the abbey.

    One day, while Dan was shooting a video of a medieval tower, I scurried to get out of way, apologizing for getting in the shot. Dan said, “I love to have you in my shots. Most of my shots have you in them.” Then he put the cap on the camcorder and the video continued, light coming through spaces in the cap and the crunch crunch of our footsteps on courtyard gravel as we went to climb to the top of the tower. He rarely showed me what he’d been filming, and I didn’t ask to see, since I knew we’d watch it all on the big screen TV when we got home, and I was shooting the same places with my camera, anyway.


    We had two days left in Tuscany. The sun hovered low over the hills, giving everything a warm glow and turning the tall, thin juniper trees into sundials. Dan was inside the villa, on the phone with Nina discussing the tour. I was sitting on a stone wall outside, petting a white cat. Now and then, Dan’s voice drifted through the kitchen window.

    I thought back to the first night we met, at the little Italian cafe in Santa Fe. We’d been through so much, and come so far, since shaking hands over my amp five years ago. Although he would never forget the betrayals of the past, his trust in me was growing stronger. I could only hope that one day those wounds would heal, and he would love me without apprehension.

    Now I realized that there would be no European proposal, and I was at peace with that. The only thing that mattered was having this smart, funny, talented, moody, gorgeous, complicated man in my life. I closed my eyes and breathed in the Tuscan light, full of love and gratitude.

    When Dan got off the phone, we went to have dinner at Le Tre Porte one last time. The food, the wine, the candlelight; everything was so beautiful. When he told me he loved me, tears welled in my eyes and I told him I loved him too, so much. We drank grappa with dessert and I got tipsy. I took his hand and told him I didn’t care if we never got married; I just wanted to be with him. His face broke into three expressions at once, rendering them all unreadable.

    The next day, as we were driving to Siena, Janet called Dan to say there had been a cancellation at the Santa Caterina Hotel. Did we want it? If so, he had to tell her now - there were many people on the hotel’s waiting list and it would be gone in minutes.

    Dan held the phone to his chest and asked me what I thought. Did I want to spend the last days of our vacation in Amalfi? Or, we could go to Rome, or even somewhere else entirely; the Bahamas? I said that, since we were already in Italy, we should see Amalfi. He didn’t show it, but it was the answer he’d been hoping for.


New chapter coming October 31st

Posted October 24th. 2020 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2020