May 7, 2020

Finally out for a walk…..my villa from the fields below

The 64 million-dollar question of when ‘this thing’ is going to be over is anyone’s guess.  I don’t have a crystal ball. But I did have a ball on Day 64.

A new Decreto came out last week that sent me searching for cousins. It said we could meet up with family to the level of second cousins.  For an Italian that would be so easy.  My village only has three main families and when we first bought here they all thought we were crazy buying a crumbling ruin 20,000 kilometres from home when we had no family ties. Even though there is a large M over my front door my search for a cousin in the village failed dismally.   

My step-daughter Bec’s husband suggested his rellies on the island of Elba but, whilst it’s in Tuscany, is still out-of-bounds for a visit.  So I had to look closer.

On Monday in anticipation of a visitor, I did a bit of cleaning I’d not bothered about for a while, changed the tablecloth and napkins, stacked the downstairs fridge with vino and put on lipstick.

Because we have to wear masks once we step off our properties, lipstick has seemed such a waste, as has nail polish, make up and jewellery. My Fitbit lies forlornly on my dresser, wondering when it will be fit for purpose again and the few bits of jewellery from my last visit to London, from whence I returned 66 days ago, lie beside it.  I’m a bit concerned that if I don’t start engaging with the earrings the holes in my ears will close up.  But they’ll probably get in the way of the mask. My glasses certainly do…. they fog up in the first moment of donning the rather unattractive blue number that the Comune delivers in a hand addressed envelope every couple of weeks. They clearly don’t expect you to go out much as they only give you two and they are supposed to be single use.  

They all seem irrelevant these days…specially the Fitbit

Anyway Mary was very happy to leave her restored mill down by the river and come up, arriving with a bag of freshly-laid eggs from her clutch of chooks.  Opening the door, I beamed ‘Mary it’s so great to see you’ and she responded ‘Shall we hug?’  We did: a big, long, tight hug; two friends, both been alone for longer than two months, not touching anyone and trying not to touch anything alien. Except she has a cat. And chooks.

So Mary was my #fakecousin for the night as we sat down for dinner at opposite ends of my table, having to get up to pass something. It was probably a bit pointless having had the hug, but I hadn’t thought that when I’d set the table.  I knew Mary would be ‘safe’ so I wasn’t being reckless, remembering that day in 2013 when we’d handed in the last applications for permission to build my pool and, around 5.30, had a couple of wines to celebrate. I went home; she went on to do a few things before going home and at around 10pm when I was sitting up in bed reading I got a shock phone call from the Lucca hospital saying she’d had a heart attack! So she’s been probably even more rigorous than me and was in fact a #safecousin for our shared celebration.

Not much snow left on the Alpi Apuane

The Decreto has allowed us out to walk from May 4, but in Tuscany it was from 1 May and my first walk was just wonderful.  There is only one road through my village and I took the downward stretch, past the village hall, the priest’s house which no longer has a priest living in it, a couple of houses, a small carpenter’s fattoria, the old school house, the cemetery on the right (where I’d be happy to end up in a notch in the wall, but not yet!) and to the crossroad – one side to the village where I shop and the other side to the towns I miss so much. So I took it, past a newly sown field of potatoes on the edge of the medieval village that was lucky enough to escape the 1920 earthquake that took the original village where I live. I walked past the soccer field looking green and pristine, past the track where grown men throw cheeses on a Sunday afternoon (the local sport of tirra della forma) and on, past meadows full of wildflowers with the backdrop of beautiful mountains, the last snows melting on the Alpi Apuane, the marble mountains that separate me from the coast, and with the splendid spectacle of the fortress spread-eagling itself out on the far hill as a constant reminder that I live in ancient lands.

Tirra della Forma…throwing the cheese

Yesterday, taking advantage of the relaxation I drove down that road through villages I’d not been in for more than 2 months…loving the rediscovery of the place, enjoying the myriad Italian flags flying from windows, and remembering that I’d seen my village’s on my walk, sadly flying at half-mast for the more than 29,000 deaths from CV19 in my adopted home.

The ancient Fortezza snaking along the hill at Verrucole

I found my way to a plant nursery I’d not visited before, wanting to buy seedlings, as my man Toty has been busy preparing my veggie garden, and the type of geraniums that are supposed to hang lusciously from baskets for my top terrace.  Every year I look at other people’s and wonder why I can’t get the same lush growth, and this year maybe I’ll be here to tend to them a bit more and rival my neighbour’s. 

Waiting to be planted

I also wanted 15 lavender plants.  30 years ago we planted a hedge of box near the clothes line, now a meter and a half tall, and three years ago they got a disease which mysteriously came in the summer and went away in the winter. My friend Linda called it the Chelsea Blight as it was all around London too. Anyway they picked up again after summer and I didn’t pull them out. Last year was the same and I thought of reefing them out but I was so busy with the revolving door of guests, I left them and on Sunday I looked at them and thought, ah lots of new shoots, looks as if they will be alright this year.  On Monday they were dead; all of them.

Yesterday I said to Toty, please pull them out. I’ll get some lavender to replace them. Normally the nurseries are overflowing with lavanda, but guess what, not a single plant available anywhere in the valley. These are strange times but at least I can now start planting my veggie garden and look forward to its abundance in the summer.

Driving home, slowly, annoyingly for the cars behind me I imagine, I had a lovely time reacquainting myself with these charming villages and lovely homes, grey stone, flags flying, neat laurel hedges, the beginning of geraniums in their window boxes.  One of the things I’ve always loved about this area is that the Italians don’t trick up their houses to an inch of their lives: bits of crumbling stucco and paint not renewed every year or so are quite acceptable.  I remember having a tongue in cheek letter published in Melbourne’s ‘Age’ years ago as a response to all the ‘Tuscan dream homes’ being advertised saying they were nothing like, and not nearly as nice, as the real thing.

Noon came and I was delighted to hear the church bells ringing, not from one village, but five different ones as I drove home…each on a slightly different time scale. A minute to midday, a minute past, three minutes past. And I smiled to myself in loving the imperfection. Back at home my church bells chimed at one…they’ve not got themselves reset yet for summer time, but who cares, one can crib a bit here and there in these strange times and it gives me a second opportunity for that dry vermouth on the rocks, always a midday custom.

The Mrs Mouse collaboration with my friend Rozi Clarke in Melbourne has been great fun –  my poems and her fabulous drawings, and on Sunday I found Mrs Mouse had a rival.  Sitting on my little balcony I spied a large green lizard running along the top of my dry stone wall and disappearing under a lavender bush. Bright green and quite wonderful, it’s a Ramarro, and it’s now been given the moniker Romeo. Sadly he’ll probably be the only Romeo in my life this summer.

Romeo my Ramarro

I’ve been working on an anthology of things Italian, or more specifically, things from my special part of Italy, called the Garfagnana in the upper reaches of Tuscany. It’s a great lockdown activity and strengthens the reasons why I love this place. So, fingers crossed, one day there may be a book of my meanderings and photos….

And yesterday I celebrated the anniversary of the day I left Melbourne on my Gap Year. It truly was only to be a year but I was never ace at maths and I’ve been having too good a time to leave.

A message from a friend on the eve of my leaving Melbourne 8 years ago

Meanwhile…to the orto…my veggie garden to plant my seedlings. I love my evening activity of watering them….gin and tonic in one hand and hose in the other….

Stay well…..from #iostoacasa on #day66.


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