There are very few regions in the world today that are rich in natural and architectural beauties as well as filled with history. Tuscany is one of those regions that has it all and if one lived here long enough, one would never want to venture out in to the world again. Be it the art of living or hearty eating, Tuscany is well cultivated in it all. And Siena to Iris, seemed like the major concentration point of all that is good in the entire region.
Surprisingly, she had been accepted readily into the fold by the gentle and friendly people of Siena. The vineyard itself was placed a little farther away from the main centre of the town. It was a huge piece of land; about 24,000 Hectares of vineyard, with another 12,000 Hectares of arable land for future planting and 20,000 Hectares of Olive groves. There was also a wide expanse of wilderness on one side of the land. The workers told her it was more than 5,000 Hectares of wood land that belonged to the Bertoni family as well. She often went for long walks along the path but had been asked to not go beyond the gravel road that led to a couple of private houses and villa.
Iris had also been taken into the cellar for a visit during the first days and informed that this was where new bottles were kept to age. The wines were sold not only in the domestic market but were quite popular in the International market as well. Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Vin Santo, Chianti Colli Senesi and Rosato were some of the few wines that were well known from this vineyard.
This particular farmland produced not just wine but also Olive oil. It had been awarded too for producing the best organic Italian white wine some years back. She was also shown the small bottling plant, the refrigeration plant and the tanks that were insulated for vinification of white and red wine. There was also a storage room where aged and ready to be sold wines were kept and a huge staff room where everyone met for lunch and coffee.
No wonder Alessandro Bertoni was so arrogant; what with him being so rich, and having the world fall at his feet, thought Iris. He was a hundred folds far removed from her class of people. Somehow that thought had annoyed her and also saddened her. She had diverted the focus thus, to the place where she was putting up during her stay here.
The house could hardly be called small. She had been informed that the housekeeping and the working staff stayed not far away from the main farmhouse, in their own little cottages. The farmhouse was basically a villa with three floors that held 5 bedrooms, a huge drawing room, a study, work room, a library, a nursery and some other rooms that were undefined yet. A huge swimming pool in the back side of the house was surrounded by just as big a garden, with some space reserved for vegetables. An orchard on the side held lovely tropical fruits that bore fruit some time of the year. It had taken Iris an entire day to tour around the house with the housekeeper, Bepe.
Iris mused about the whole experience as she ventured out with her note book. It was really more of a holiday than work, thought she, when she had to roam about in the vineyards like this; learning more about cultivation and growth of the grapes and enjoying the warm weather. Every day spent in the sun had given her a healthy tan and a lovely glow to her skin. She was back out again today, learning dedicatedly the art of grape cultivation from the people who worked in it and lived in it, day and night. Keeping in mind the warnings from the workers at the vineyard about the harsh sun, Iris kept to herself when swimming or tanning, but was always suitably covered and dressed when working, to avoid unnecessary fuss. Today she wore lovely green harem pants and a brown tunic top while working with the rest of the team.
Iris was happy to go into the town in her free time and explore the streets. She had been given a car; a Fiat and she loved to drive it across the town. Mostly she parked the car in one place and walked. It was fun. She loved going back to the central piazza “Il Campo” and gaze at the surroundings. The first time she had seen it, she remembered where she’d seen it before- she’s seen this very same place in the James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace”.
Despite the initial hiccups, she thought she had settled well into the routine since the last two weeks. It is true that the first two days, she had been jumpy and wondered if Alessandro would show up unexpectedly to keep an eye on her. But when days turned into a week, she relaxed. She felt her fears with regard to her career and Alessandro’s attention had been baseless and she even scorned herself for it. Why would a man of such wealth and arrogance be interested in her anyway? She was after all, not into his class or society of people. She was just an employee and she had been asked to learn the ropes of wine industry so that she could move forward in her career. It had been silly to see things into it. She shook her head at her own stupidity and walked on towards the patch of land she was supposed to pay attention to.
The matter of fact was, she had not been silly at all to think that Alessandro would come to see her, for he did- the very next day. Had she but known it, she might have also wondered about his intentions. As such, she had no idea what was in store for her. She also did not know that Alessandro had in fact been living very close to where she had been put up. The gravel path, from where she had been deterred from, was the route to the villa where Alessandro lived with his two sons, his mother and his staff.
Alessandro meant to kept Iris in the dark about his plans for her—at least for some time. He had gone to meet his godfather and had been sternly advised to scrap his plan. According to his god father, even if his plan succeeded, he would regret the whole of it the day his intentions behind it and the deviousness with which he set it about would get revealed. Secretly Alessandro feared the same thing but he’d never admit to it of course. Somewhere he wanted Iris to keep on holding him in high regard. However, he had no intention of letting his plan slide, despite his godfather’s advice. He was going to ensure the truth would never out. And for that, it was essential that he kept his plans to himself, not making any one a partner to it.
He had obviously kept up with news of her. It was amazing news about her kept on trickling in; about how much the staff at the vineyard liked her. He got good reports not just from his housekeeping staff about how neat and helping she was, but also from the working and the administration staff on how meticulously she was learning grape growing and wine production. He decided to pay a little visit knowing by now, she’d have relaxed and wouldn’t be expecting it. He grinned, quite resembling his young sons when they were up to something naughty.
And so it happened that he actually made Iris jump when he appeared. It was dark in the corner where Iris had been standing, inspecting the small vines that would one day produce luscious grape. She had been completely unprepared for his,
“So this is where I find you- in the mysterious dark.”
“Dear Lord!” Exclaimed Iris once she had shrieked and turned around. She hated him, absolutely! “You had no right to come up sneaking behind me and scaring me like that! What a silly thing to do!”
Iris sounded cross and Alessandro loved to rile her. He grinned now as he looked her up from head to toe. Her hair was disheveled, which of course is no surprise since he knew she’d been roaming about the place since morning, taking notes and working out things. She had tied it on top of her head and now it looked untidy though not at all bad. The look suited her, he decided. She was wearing harem pants in brown with a half sleeve sky blue top and a hat lay on the ground. Her feet were sensibly encased in boots. In reply to her annoyed statement, he thought, “Not yet, I have no right but will- soon.”
Aloud he said, “I’m sorry to have startled you. I am very happy to see that you’re taking deep interest in vines and production side of the business. Have you been treated well here?”
Iris instantly became professional like. Her heart was thundering loudly but she ignored it. Though she wouldn’t admit it even to herself, she was happy to see him. His scrutiny had seared her insides but she’d rather not let him know that, considering he sounded polite and businesslike. She smiled gently and said, “Oh yes, thank you Signore. The staff here is the best and has helped me a lot in learning most things regarding production, planting, refrigeration and so on. The housekeeping is most attentive.”
“I’m glad to hear of it. I have asked Maria to lay the table outside on the patio. Would you care to join me for lunch?”
Though it had been posed as a question, Iris knew it was a demand of her boss. Probably he wanted to know what she’d learned and how far she’d progressed in her training. She nodded and said, “I’d like to, thank you.”
As they approached the patio, they saw Bepe and Maria hovering by the table. Bepe gave Alessandro a big smile and spoke in Italian, “It has been long since you came here to stay.”
Alessandro replied, sitting down, “Soon I will come to stay and bring Antonio and Ernesto with me. Mamma has been asking me to take a break and give her one too.”
Bepe chuckled, “More likely she wants you to take a wife to bring here. When do you marry Signore? Have you chosen a bride yet?”
Iris listened to the conversation, astonished that Bepe could talk to Alessandro in such an informal manner. Alessandro looked at her as if understanding her surprise and said, “Bepe was my mother’s special maid before she came here. She has known me since I was a boy.”
He looked at Bepe, smiling and said, “I have chosen the bride Bepe but it remains to be seen if she chooses me.”
Bepe flapped her hands in the air as if dismissing the question, “Nonsense, there is no woman who will reject you Signor Alessandro and you know it.”
Iris looked down at the plate in front of her as she tried to understand her feelings. All this talk of Alessandro getting married was getting to her. She had no idea why she should feel so sad all of a sudden but she couldn’t dismiss the feeling of desolation that swept over her as she heard Alessandro saying that he had chosen a woman for his bride.
Alessandro looked at Iris’s down bent head and then at Bepe. She, a woman of wisdom watched Alessandro in return, nodded her head when he looked at her and softly said, “Yes, perhaps there is someone who can put you in your place if she says no and then yes? It will all work out in the end.”
Alessandro smiled at Bepe as she left them to go into the kitchen. He hoped so too that it will all turn out to be well in the end.