Wednesday, March 16, 2011


 “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”   

Well, I'm not so sure about the voice of the turtle part, but at least I haven't heard any gun shots from wild boar hunters, lately. I'm thinking that the wild boar survivors are busy making the next generation of future boar sausages. My hope has been to catch la primavera here during Spring Break, and then get one in  the States on our return. So far, so good! 

On a gray day before all the flowers are in bloom, it is easier to appreciate the simple lines of the house. At the left are the new kitchen and pergola, upstairs loggia, and my bathroom, which were made in the space formerly occupied by an old pizza oven and animal quarters. The far right is the oldest part of the house, where the animal troughs have been transformed into a guest room. If you look closely, you can see the line down the middle that seems to mark a newer section. The brick trim around the doors is not quite the same in the two halves.

We were really surprised to see how much work had been done to clear the trees from our lower meadow. This has really opened up the view in a wonderful way.

This is the new staircase that leads down to the orchard area. There are new stone flower beds that are planted, at the moment, with dwarf Japanese maples and colorful primroses. But there is a lot more to be done here.

There is a second, less "grand" staircase leading down to another corner of the orchard from which there is a much better view now that so many trees have been cleared.

With all the work that had been recently done to clear the land, make this stone seating area, and put up the fencing, I was worried that the drifts of wild, double-daffodils that were here when we first saw the property might have been destroyed. On one of the very first days we were inspecting our "ruin" with our dear architect friends, D took his life in his hands and climbed down into the hilly brush to pick me a huge bouquet of these flowers, which felt like a symbol of hope that we could bring this dream to fruition. So to encounter them again each year means a lot to me.

"Daffodils have meanings of faith, honesty, truth, forgiveness. They are ever vigilant in returning each spring, and with their return we are reminded that their beauty is capable of following on the shirttails of even the harshest winters (or tribulations). They are associated with new beginnings." 

 This one is called "una contadina cultivates her vegetable garden."
 Here I am, weeding and surrounding my garden greens with rocks to keep the leaves off the ground, hopefully further out of range of the insects. Each head of lettuce and radicchio ends up looking like a framed piece of art, and it is even a pleasure to select the right rocks for the job, since their colors and shapes vary widely. It occurred to me how "completamente pazza" (cuckoo) my work would seem to our local contadino expert, Farmer G, but that's OK by me. At first I was just picking random, darkish rocks that elevated the leaves, while blending in with the surrounding soil. But then I saw the lighter-colored and the bluish rocks--especially the flat ones that slip right under the leaves as if made to order.

Too Soon to Eat? Frame It!

 I admire these colorful examples of nature's work and decide to go for it. As I am doing this, I recognize that these vegetables may be at their prime after we leave, but I don't mind if I don't get to eat them. Just knowing I have a garden here makes me happy. 

Rockin' Round the Radicchio

I think I have the heart of a contadina. I certainly don't fit the locals' view of what a signora should be. For one thing, I am used to doing everything myself. What a revelation when G told me that I wouldn't have to be here when the newly planted peas and favas are ready. She says that V, the former surgical nurse from Moldova who comes every two weeks to clean, will harvest, prepare, and freeze them so they will be here when I next arrive.

So, I wonder, is it really my garden if someone else plants it, takes care of it, and harvests and cooks its fruits except when I am here to weed and putter in it? Yes! As Le Petit Prince (roughly) says, "It's the time and thought that I have devoted to my rose that makes her mine." Most English translations of that line read, "It's the time that I have WASTED on my rose that makes her mine." Quel sacrilege!

I still like to think about what Voltaire meant when he said "il faut cultiver son jardin." Surely he meant to include playing the viola, looking for "le mot juste," and making rock frames around the radicchio!

Food Play

On the same day I worked in the garden, we did some errands in the AM and afternoon. Everyone seems to go out of his/her way to be nice to us nutty foreigners. I think we liven up their life by being so different and naive about everything, which can be entertaining on both sides. It's like a chance to be reborn, but after having acquired a little wisdom along the way. 

I am thinking about all the good people we met on the day's outings:even the formerly intimidating post office lady apologizing for all the extra costs and problems we have had--and I thought she would give us a hard time about signing for the kids' packages. Three lessons here: 
1)In Italia the interaction is all 
2)All those rules that no one can begin to understand (especially not us!) are made to be "bent" 
3)We seem to be a source of amusement to everyone, but nobody minds

Then the village cafe guy is willing to sell me his imported-from-Sicily-chocolate-dipped cannoli in frozen form, because the ones he'd defrosted for the day had run out. 

The butcher was also great, as were the other patrons waiting patiently for us to finish our business. 

Ditto for the electrical appliance/i-Phone store folks whom we pester endlessly. As usual, we had some annoying questions about the i-Phones we had bought there. A multi-tasker, S was able to help us even while being "on hold" with TIM (the patience-testing Italian phone company), at the same time as she tried to help a customer with a worse problem than ours. So glad to see it was someone else torturing her for a change! 

Speaking of i-Phones, at a touch of a button, my i-Phone keyboard can switch from English to French to Italian, which reminds me how privileged I am to have studied and worked to assimilate these languages and cultures. The fact that there is always lots more to learn here makes it even more fun. These people do not obsess about the same things we do, which is refreshing. It is good to have a chance to leave some of that unhappy push for perfectionism behind.
Another pleasant encounter, this time with the nice lady at a new-to-us bakery:when we ask about what kind of bread she has, she tears one open to show us the inside. And then when we say we like it, she insists on giving us a fresh one. She is also willing to cut into whole cakes to sell us smaller pieces so that we can sample several. Harvard Business School, et al. ain't got nuthin' on the Italian village school of marketing! 

 I am wishing everyone a spring full of daffodils and all good things.

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