Wednesday, August 19, 2009

From New York Harbor to Greve in Chianti

I met Clare again today for another private bike tour. We headed south into Chianti territory, stopping briefly at Impruneta for an art & history break, and then on to Panzano to rehydrate before the descent into Greve where we swapped career stories over uno spuntino, (a snack). A senior exec at Nike, and an accomplished athlete, Clare was one of the original R&D brains of the company, where she has enjoyed a 28 year fascinating, still-going-strong career. We toured the piazza and Clare took some photos of the monument of Giovanni da Verrazzano which dominates the center of the piazza.

Giovanni da Verrazzano was born here in 1485 and lived in the Castello di Verrazzano which is now the largest winery in Greve. Because of Verrazzano's history in Greve, the town has a particular significance to me. The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge which connects Brooklyn with Staten Island is named after Giovanni da Verrazzano, who in 1524 discovered New York Harbor where I lived most of my life. Telling my little story to tour clients seems to make the town of Greve come alive to them from a unique perspective.

As a child, from the age of 6 – 11, I witnessed the construction of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge from my backyard. You could say that we grew up together. Its emergence had a powerful impact upon the residents of my neighborhood in Bay Ridge Brooklyn but especially to us kids. Experiencing this gargantuan structure materializing right in front of our eyes was mind-boggling for a child, and at times haunting. I remember sometimes being afraid of it, as it looked like a monster growing out of the water. It was so close that the nuns had to keep the classroom windows closed because of the construction noise.

The completion of the bridge was a monumental milestone for New York City, because finally you could actually drive from Brooklyn to Staten Island instead of taking the ferryboat which doesn't even exist anymore. When the bridge finally opened, a significant part of the Brooklyn Italian population (including my family) moved to Staten Island, and even today, the Italians are the largest ethnic group on Staten Island.

So, although most Americans don't know Giovanni da Verrazzano, New Yorkers are very aware of his contribution not only to Italian history, but to American history and the landscape of New York City.

We headed back to Florence, passing through miles and miles of vineyards, noticing that the grapes in the past week are ripening and looking abundant as we approach the harvest, which will take place throughout Tuscany very soon. The summer has gone by so quickly.

Clare and I were glad that we left early in the morning for our ride, because we avoided the afternoon heat which eventually hit a high of 114 degrees Fahrenheit in Florence. We arrived back in Florence by noon and made another appointment to ride on Friday.