May
8
2011

The Adventures of Mike & Mia: The Fountains of Brian

“I’m going to call them Le Fontane di Brian.”

Brian laughed. “They’re not that impressive. But they’re good.”

He rounded a tight corner, then sped up the hill. The countryside was scenic and expansive, the kind you see on an Italian postcard. With the sun shining and clouds wispy, it was a glorious day for a Tuscan drive.

Just 25 minutes north of Florence, Brian’s hometown of Fiesole had been a suggestion of our hotel concierge. He said it had fantastic views of Florence from the north – while the Giardini di Boboli (Boboli Gardens) provided fantastic views from the south. The concierge was definitely right.

I had no idea Brian lived here though. Fiesole was a coincidental suggestion. “It would be funny if you lived in Fiesole,” I told him when he picked us up.

“Oh, I do,” he laughed. We caught up on old times, since it’s been years since we’ve worked together. Then we were off to a view of Fiesole known only to the locals. Such as: The Fountains of Brian.

“The ground here is saturated with water,” he told us. “When it rains, much of the water pools into natural reservoirs and springs. A long time ago, the people here learned where those springs are and tapped into them. Now, you can get really fresh water from those fountains. They’re perfectly drinkable and potable.”

We shifted into low gear to climb another precarious hill, then served to the right to avoid hitting an oncoming car. Brian didn’t bat an eye or stop talking, like a near-miss from a blind hill was an everyday event in Italy. And from the cars we’ve seen so far, that must definitely be true.

“Here’s one,” he said as we pulled up to a monastery at the top of the hill. “Monte Senario. This is still an active church. See all the cars here?”

Indeed, the small parking lot was full of families trekking up the stairs to the church.

“There’s probably a sermon here tonight.”

We walked around the structure to take in the glorious views. Below us were the lush hillsides of Tuscany, dotted with vineyards, olive trees, and other native vegetation.

“And here it is. The first fountain.”

It was a nondescript spigot protruding from a wall. Below it was a stone basin. Unlike Rome, water wasn’t continuously pouring out.

“The monks who first built this fountain believed it was the freshest water in the land. If you talk to the old guys here, they’ll tell you the same thing.”

He reached over, turned on the spigot, and leaned down to take a long drink. Then he beckoned us to do the same. I drank the icy cool spring water and it was oh-so refreshing.

We took a few scenic photos and jumped back in his car. “The next fountain is tougher to find. I happened to stumble upon it while I was biking these roads one morning. They aren’t on any map and you would never know it was special unless someone who lives here pointed it out.”

We served left and right to navigate the hills and oncoming traffic. I glanced in the back seat to check on my motion-sickness-prone wife. Mia gave me a weak smile and continued looking out the window at a stable focal point to minimize her queasiness.

After some twists and turns, we ended up at another nondescript spigot and stone basin by the side of the road. The only thing significant about it were the three old men filling up several gallons of empty containers with the water.

“These old guys love this water. They come here and bring gallons back home for drinking and cooking.”

We decided to drive on to the third fountain, since this one had a long queue.

“I was talking to one of those guys and he told me this is the best water of Fiesole. Other guys will swear that the monastery’s water is the best. Yet others totally believe the third fountain beats these two. Everyone has a favorite and says theirs is the best.”

“Do they taste any different?” I asked.

“Not that I can tell. One guy swore that this second one is the freshest. He said he weighed it and found it to be the most pure and unspoiled by minerals. How the heck he weighed water, I don’t know. The difference might have been a few grams if he was really scientific about it, but I don’t know about that.”

Mia and I laughed. “I guess that’s one way to determine a water’s quality,” I said.

We got to the bottom of a hill and pulled over in a shady spot. The third nondescript spigot and basin rested alongside a patch of wet mud. Brian leapt out and hunched over to drink from the spigot.

As Mia and I took turns tasting this fresh spring water, he continued. “One of old guys said this fountain will make you pee better. He claimed he pees so much better after drinking this water.”

“I don’t have to pee yet, but when I do, I’ll see if it’s a better pee than usual,” I replied.

Brian laughed. “What’s great is these fountains always have cold water. After biking on a hot day, these fountains are great. Whether or not they make you pee better, they are damn refreshing.”

We wiped our chins and stood around for a moment, taking in the clean Tuscan air and crisp chirps of nearby birds.

“Anyone have to pee yet?” Brian asked.

Mia and I looked at each other. “Nope, not yet.”

“Okay then.” We got back into his car. “So those were the fountains.”

“Le Fontane di Brian,” I said.

And later, back at the hotel, I think I really did pee better.

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