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Postcard - A Day Trip to the Tarot Garden

Angie Brooksby (tuscanartist)

July 2005 - a very hot day. A day trip from Baratti, on the Tuscan coast between Livorno and Grosseto, where we were vacationing, to Niki de Saint Phalle's Tarot Garden in southern Tuscany near the coast, with some swimming, shopping and eating.

Down the coast to Orbetello

Tarot Garden in southern Tuscany, photo by Angie.

We left Baratti late; it was already 10am, too late to start a day trip on a sweltering summer day. Baratti is where we spend our summer vacation eating out of our vegetable garden and enjoying the seaside, but I wanted to go to the Tarot Garden having only seen it in photographs.

After finishing canning more tomatoes (it seems that all we have done this summer is can tomatoes) we left with the minimal necessary for a day away: our swimsuits; my only shoes, a pair of flip-flops - I had forgotten to bring my shoes from Florence a few days earlier; bug spray; and dog food to feed Lira, our Jack Russell. We were planning to eat out somewhere for dinner.

Luckily the air conditioning in the car had been fixed. From Baratti we drove south along the Aurelia (N. 1) for an hour until we reached the southern side of the Lagoon of Orbetello (southern Tuscany). We thought that we would take a dip in the water before eating lunch. We had to do something until 2:30pm when the Tarot Garden opens.

Once off of the Aurelia, the closest beach with a monument marked on the map was Ansedonia. The name sounded nice and the DeAgostini atlas marked a monument with the words "tagliata etrusca". I thought that sounded cool, so I directed my husband on to some narrow road that wound around the manmade pools where they raise sea bass. The Lagoon of Orbetello is famous for raising sea fish. Most of it tastes like raised trout. We stopped to take a few photographs of the implant then headed toward the beach.

After a few kilometers we found a parking lot where it was obvious we were to park. We drove ahead anyway to see how far the beach was and if we could casually leave the car somewhere else. The beach was within walking distance but there was absolutely no parking allowed except in the parking lot so we drove back there and asked if we could pay for only an hour because all we wanted to do was cool off. There was no point in sunbathing in the boiling sun. When I talked to the cute young man at the parking lot, he showed me a thermometer that said 34C with 90% humidity. The Lagoon of Orbetello was making itself felt and the scirocco wind was bringing that African heat that makes people do crazy things.

My husband put the car in the sun because the only place in the shade was too isolated and we didn't want to risk a break-in after we read the giant sign that said they weren't responsible for any damage to vehicles or stolen items. Then we grabbed our ragged beach bag and some water for our dog and started walking.

Just outside of the parking lot was the entrance to a forest with the sign "Riserva Forestale Duna di Feniglia" that showed bike trails leading through the forest and onto the beach and also indicated a Roman ruin. The sign said that dogs were allowed on leashes. We headed into the wooded area and started walking thinking that it would be the same as going to the beach via the road. After walking and walking and sweating like pigs we realized that we were getting no where and that the beach was anywhere but here. We knew that it was just over to the left but there was no access to it because of these fences. Suddenly in an opening we saw a group of deer that were near to the road/trail, one was even laying on the trail. We then realized why there were fences. There were some people feeding bread to the deer. Our dog was really scared because the deer weren't escaping, she'll chase something if it runs but if it is bigger than her and just sits there, she's scared. I took some photos and we headed back in the direction that we had come from. It was so hot and humid we thought that we might melt.

After exiting the Forest of Feniglia we walked the short distance to the very pretty beach that lines the dune, Tombolo di Feniglia, all the way to Monte Argentario. By this time it was 11am and the sun was high.

Swimming with a shark at Tombolo di Feniglia!!

The sand was blistering and we had left the umbrella in the car. We sat next to a fence made of cane that surrounded a beach area with umbrellas to get some shade for our dog and us. While my husband changed into his bathing suit wriggling around in a beach towel so that no one could see him naked I took Lira to get her wet. Then my husband went for a swim while I waited with the dog in the shade of a fence. He came back refreshed to watch the dog and I wore my flip-flops down to the water so as to not burn my feet on the hot sand and went for a swim with my flip-flops in my hands.

The water was much cooler than Baratti but no where as transparent. It was shallow and sandy and there were some waves. I was about shoulder deep in the surf near to some other people when I saw a giant fish in the water that I swear was a shark; it was at least a meter long with a flat head and a wide mouth. I screamed and thought that I might die, then swatted the water near to me when something else made bubbles, my faithful flip-flops acting as my weapon. Then I exited the water as fast as possible trying not to seem agitated because they say you shouldn't panic - the predator gets excited.

I went back to my husband who watched me freaking out and imagined that there was a jellyfish near by. He only teased me when I told him I'd seen a shark. We dried off and I photographed the umbrellas of the organized part of the beach. Then I went to get the car while my husband waited for me with the panting dog in the sun. We were dissolving in the heat and our stomachs were growling. It was time for lunch. We thought that we would look for a shaded area for our picnic, maybe in the hills.

Trying to have a picnic lunch

A small road was marked on the map that showed the town of Ansedonia. We started driving up a hill and found ourselves surrounded by private villas with tall fences making the sea impossible to see. At one point we thought we weren't getting anywhere so we asked some man along the road where Ansedonia was. "Here!" he spit out. We parked the car that was just starting to cool off and got out in the blistering heat to visit Ansedonia but there was nothing there, only a cafe. I walked inside the cafe and stopped. Everyone looked at me lazily.

After a few moments of mutual staring I asked, in Italian of course, "Where is Ansedonia?" "Here," several people responded. "The whole town is just a bar?" They all laughed and consented.

I didn't know what to do. We wanted to get some cheese to accompany our homegrown melon so looked around some more then asked them if they sold cheese or salami. They directed me to the little store that was hidden just next to the bar. After I bought a slice of pure sheep pecorino we got back in the car to look for some shade, preferably on a hill.

Just up the road was the sight of the Etruscan ruins but we were so hot and just wanted to leave this place that we didn't bother to stop. We drove up some more and then down to Cosa, a village on the beach of a few houses, just south of Ansedonia, with a beautiful old construction that looks like a fort. When we saw a sign for a beach called "Lo Spacco Della Regina," we almost peed ourselves laughing. This translates to something like: the Queen's gap.

Onwards to Capalbio

We were too hot to stop there and just wanted to leave so we decided to go to Capalbio. We could see it up on the hill. Finally we found the road to Capalbio that is easy to access just off of the Aurelia but we were on some side road that looked like it came out of the 1930's and drove for ever until we went under the train tracks into Capablio Scalo. Once on the right road we stopped to get some fuel. The man at the gas station told us his whole life story in a nutshell while he pumped our gas. We thanked him then drove up to Capalbio to find some shade with our hungry stomachs making the tension in the car grow fierce. We were starting to fight.

Finally we made it into Capalbio and parked at the first "DO NOT PARK HERE" place because there was a lovely overlook with a large pine and a fountain with a sculpture by Niki di Saint Phalle and we were not going any further. All of the benches in the shade were half occupied so we pinned out one guy to try to overtake half of his bench but it was covered with dove excrement. I was grossed and had not had time to wash the sand off of my feet and my husband was angry and just wanted to eat; we looked like two madonnas frowning at each other.

Finally some kind man stood up and left us his bench. We sat and ate our home grown melon and tomatoes and peppers with the delicious sheep cheese that I'd bought in Ansedonia. I photographed the fountain with our dog. The air seemed to cool, the wind was changing direction from scirocco to maestrale and we relaxed on the bench under the big umbrella pine. I even fell asleep for a few seconds until Lira attacked someone. She likes to scare people, suddenly jumping at them and barking. If they don't scare, which is most of the time, she pretends like nothing happened.

I saw a fountain in the sun across the square and got up to wash the sand off of my feet. I took one step when my flip-flop fell apart. What was I to do? I had only these flip-flops. My husband went to the car and pulled out this piece of rough twine and repaired my cheesy flip-flop with a big knot of plain twine between my toes. It was pretty ugly and uncomfortable but I didn't have any choice. We got up and took a walk around Capalbio and I photographed almost every angle. All of the houses seemed dark and uninhabited but there was someone inside each of them - we could hear that they were all watching the same television program: Elisa di Rivombrosa.

It was still pretty darn hot and too early for the Tarot Garden so we found a cafe to sit at where my husband had a beer and I a coffee. We noticed that there were more cafes and restaurants in Capalbio than any other kind of activity. Capablio is a place where many politicians and VIPs go for the weekends from Rome. Many of them have villas in Ansedonia.

To the Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden)

Tarot Garden in southern Tuscany, photo by Angie.

Finally we began the descent to Pescia Fiorentina where the Giardino dei Tarocchi was. We pulled into the large parking lot that was filled with cars with German and Swiss plates. Luckily dogs are allowed on leashes. Lira almost always refuses to walk on the leash but it was so hot she wasn't protesting. I could see the figures of the Tarot Garden reflecting their joyous light above the tree tops.

We made our way to the entry designed by Mario Botta and paid, then walked up. The Tarot Garden is almost indescribable; you just have to see it - to walk around in it. Every piece of mosaic on all the sculptures is a work of art in itself. The combinations of colors are multiple and change in mood. The custodians watch as people interact climbing and touching and even wetting their hair in the fountains. I took lots of photos but to my dismay the battery on my digital camera started to fade. I completely forgot about the twine knot that held my flip-flop together. I was in awe of the passion and work that had gone into the creation and realization of this place.

The wind had definitely changed and the air was cooling off but we were thirsty so after thoroughly visiting the garden and shopping for a book we went to the little kiosk in the parking lot to have a drink.

Shopping in Grosseto

From the Tarot Garden we thought that we would head back north and stop in Grosseto for a pizza. I thought that I would try to find a pair of shoes seeing as how the summer sales had started. Just inside the walls of Grosseto we met a woman that had a Jack Russell. She told us her dog's life story and then told me where I might find some shoes. I went into the store she indicated while my husband asked her about a good pizzeria.

I didn't like that store so found another and as soon as I walked in tried on a pair of shoes that fit perfectly, were light weight and the right price. I was so embarrassed by the waif-on-the-beach look that I presented with my repaired flip-flops, I told the woman at the counter that my shoes had been stolen on the beach. She didn't blink an eye but did look me up and down with scorn.

I was happy at that point but my rare need to shop was turned on by the pretty shops, the summer sales with excellent prices in the pretty town of Grosseto. I hadn't been there since 1986 and was very impressed. It is clean, lively, and safe feeling. Florence is not that way anymore. I took a few photos of some old church and a beautiful facade. We walked a block down the street and I already had blisters on my pinkie toes so I had to look for a pharmacy to buy some band aids.

Pizza for dinner

Finally after exasperating my husband and the dog, who had waited for me to do some shopping, we left Grosseto. On the recommendation of the woman with the Jack Russell we went a few kilometers to Bagno Roselle to find the pizzeria Renzo e Lucia.

I think that this pizzeria is the cleanest restaurant that I have ever eaten in, anywhere. The owners are originally from Naples or near there. The restaurant is on the main road with a nice terrace with a view of the road and some ugly houses. Tractors filled with local produce drive past. There are tables inside and out with lots of locals and some northern European tourists.

We ordered a plate of marinated mussels and a few beers. I took photographs of the mussels in the dying sunlight that at this point was bearable. The mussels were so good that we ordered another round. Then the pizza came. It was one of the best pizzas I've had outside of Naples, ever. Even though it had too much mozzarella di bufala for my taste it was so good that I ate the whole thing anyway, then later felt ill from having over eaten. We ordered a few more beers and I went to photograph the bathroom.

Then we left and drove an hour back to Baratti.


www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=3415: Photos of Capalbio and Tarot Garden by Angie.

www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=3349: Photos of Populonia, Baratti & Piombino

www.nikidesaintphalle.com: The Tarot Garden. Open May through mid-October, afternoons from 2:30 - 7:30pm. Check the website for opening times and prices.

Angie lives and works in Italy as a professional artist since 1986.

© Angie Elizabeth Brooksby, 2005. All rights reserved.

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