After completing my first week of studying at Castello Sonnino in Montespertoli, Italy, I can wholeheartedly say that there are a couple of specific experiences that made me finally process that I was now living here and studying what I love. Seven-year-old me would be delighted to hear I regularly am taking promenades through castle grounds.
On Wednesday, we were invited by Baronessa Caterina de Renzis Sonnino, owner of Castello Sonnino, to tour her estate. Although Castello Sonnino hosts our studies here, this was the first time we would be entering the castle itself. Within our first steps, we were met by a grand courtyard, decorated with lush green plants—an area fit for a centuries-old historic estate. My cohort and I for once stayed quiet to take in the serene feeling of the courtyard. Every day, we saw the castle from the outside, which left us with the mystery of what it truly looked like beyond the stone walls that kept it secluded. Ayla, one of our program coordinators, guided us inside where each of us was poured a glass of lemon and mint tea as we waited for the baronessa to arrive. In the entrance parlor, I admired the rustic furniture and the particularly decorated walls that highlighted the nature of Tuscany. A blue sky painted the ceiling, making it so that even when the skies outside were dark, the parlor would remain bright. As we continued sipping our tea and exploring the gorgeous room, the door behind us opened, and in entered Caterina herself. Allow me to introduce the Sonnino family:
The members of the Sonnino family are very involved in our program and have been incredibly hospitable. Living with Caterina is her daughter, Virginia, who’s a huge help to us. She’s always working to ensure that we’re happy in our day-to-day lives living in Montespertoli—not to mention all the girls and I are constantly admiring the outfits she’s been serving. We’ve learned in the past week and a half that there aren’t many girls around our age in Montespertoli that we see out and about. Virginia, although a little older than us, is a resourceful person to talk to. We can talk to her about normal things we enjoy like food, clothes, and shopping, but also bring our troubles to her and have productive conversations that enhance our living experience. A few days ago she was wearing the prettiest blue maxi dress and when we asked her where she got it, she said the Zara in Firenze, so I guess I have some more shopping to do this weekend. Also living at Castello Sonnino is Caterina’s son, Leone. I hadn’t seen him around too often, but everyone always had something to say about him. Ayla mentioned that he was passionate about his distaste for a water tower that ruined Montespertoli’s pastoral aesthetic. Once she brought it up and we did a double-take at the tower, all of us Americans realized it did actually ruin the aesthetic. I only had my first run-in with him today while I was waiting for Caterina to arrive for our meeting. We spoke for 10 minutes and I brought up how as confused as I was about Roberto’s lesson on how astrology and agriculture intertwined, I found it fascinating. To relate, he mentioned that he only pulled weeds when the moon was waning and didn’t entirely understand why either but it was tradition. Honestly, I was just glad someone else was on the same page as the rest of us.
I, of course, have to now describe Caterina. I met her with a few others when the rest of the students were still on their way to the castle. She introduced herself and immediately gave us bread, tomatoes, and olive oil as welcome gifts. From the very first moment I met her, I noticed she gave off natural charm and had a personality that was so genuine and easy to connect to. I met with her this morning regarding my internship in which I’ll be working with her to remodel the Castello Sonnino Educational social media. She not only discussed what I’d be doing, but she took the time to get to better know me as a person and listen to me ramble about what I was excited about and what ideas I had. The way in which Caterina shares her stories is slow and steady. Her voice is unwavering and full of knowledge that I can only hope to one day achieve. When she spoke of Montespertoli, she communicated her love of the land and culture and we haven’t been here for long, but her love of her home has already been passed down to us.
Now, let me get back to this castle tour. Caterina opened the doors behind us and walked in with a big welcoming smile. She wore a long polka dot dress and a dangling pearl necklace. Somehow, the castle seemed to amplify the elegance that Caterina radiated. She wasted no time jumping straight into the castle’s history. When the former owner of Castello Sonnino decided that he wanted to pass the estate on, Caterina and her husband, Alessandro Sonnino, were given the option to take on the castle and the business. She reminisced how Alessandro left her alone in the dark castle as he went off to discuss business to get a feel for if they wanted to take on the responsibility of restoring it. Caterina blindly felt around the entrance parlor until she finally found the window and opened it up, allowing the light into the room. The more she explored and the more windows she opened, the more she realized that she was standing in her new home. As we stood in the same place as she did many years ago, Caterina opened the same window for us, signaling the new chapter we were beginning in Montespertoli. It finally came to me at once that I was studying sustainability done in a successful manner on historic grounds where I could see and apply everything I was learning under the guidance of the Sonnino family. “Living history to sustain the future,” and here we are; truly living history to sustain the future