My summer exit date was planned to follow the AGM of the Australian Women’s Club London where I completed Year 1 of a two year term but in fact it couldn’t have come at a better time after the devasting result of the Brexit/Remain referendum two days earlier.
Growing up in a politically aware and active household, a couple of years as PA to the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in Australia and having worked on a great number of election campaigns with results I either did or did not like but learned to live with, I thought I was immune to results. But on my first time as a UK voter, this proved not to be the case.
I woke at 3am to check an early result – not happy that the Remain voters were only a million more than the Leave. By 6am I had to literally prise my eyes open and with utter dismay and disbelief learned that my age group throughout the country but not London or Scotland or Gibralta had voted their kids and grandkids out of living and working in 27 countries. With my son’s Indefinite Leave to Remain Visa Application to complete the following day in the expectation that he too would have this opportunity, I was beyond gutted.
Two days later I left soggy, unsure and somewhat angry London to head for the hills – my hills – reclaiming the space where 28 years and 5 days earlier I had stood on the crumbling terrace and said ‘if you can’t catch a dream once in a lifetime then why are we here?’
Arriving at Pisa airport I produced my Australian passport to get in; something I have never done before – in the hope of retaining some dignity amongst the Italians, some of whom had already emailed me of ‘il catastrofo’.
Our bags were the first off the carousel and we grabbed them and ran for a taxi, having only 13 minutes to get to the station and leap on the train home. Sadly the self propelled train is still not working …. perhaps another 2 years. Perhaps more. This is Italy. To love it one has to love all of it. Or maybe not?
The train journey up the valley between the Apennines and the Apuan Alps that contain enough marble for millenia of Middle Eastern bathrooms and hotel lobbies is wonderful. The energy of the lush green and beautiful Garfagnana beckons me again as it did all those years ago, and indeed every year especially the last three after every ‘sodding stone’ of I Cinghiali finally became mine.
My dear friend Toty was at the station with my car and an invitation to his house where his wife Caterina had prepared a refreshing drink which I’d taught her to make last year and then up the hill to home sweet home.
Arriving at the barn I looked out of the window and in my mind’s eye I saw the two pictures, one just 2 years ago, and the other, beckoning to me for a long hot summer: I was in paradiso and brexit had already assumed a lower case b.
Later that evening standing on my terrace, no longer crumbling, with glass in hand, a visitor in my own home, guest of His Excellency the Australian High Commissioner to the UK and his wife who were enjoying two weeks in the villa with their family having their own Tuscan dream. A wonderful dinner ensued as we watched the magical sky over the 10th Century Fortress on the hill opposite enchanted by the appearance of some fireflies and I felt utterly blessed that I had a couple of months of the simple life to look forward to.
Six days later my first guest has gone and I have moved into the villa awaiting the arrival of my sister and two friends this evening: friends who lived together in a mews house, a stone’s throw from my London flat, when we were all in our early 20’s. It is utterly peaceful, the whipper-snippers or whatever the English call them having been put down in favour of a Saturday afternoon siesta, but I guess that will not last when the four of us get together.
It has been a lovely 6 days with my friend Kerry staying and to see again friends I have made over the years. I feel privileged to have this place and I love sharing it and its charming village life with friends who come to visit. We enjoyed the local market and drinks with friends on Tuesday followed by a late afternoon drive to lovely Barga with its 17th century church of St Christopher perched on the top of the hill in all its marbled glory. And gelati.
Wednesday we drove to Lucca…still and always a favourite with its 76 churches and its fabulous Roman amphitheatre. Lunching at a favourite, we struck up a conversation with two Melbourne guys who had just purchased an apartment in a town near mine, home to great friends and a strong artistic community and I immediately invited them to lunch and a swim when they return from the south and Venezia.
Thursday took us to Castelnuovo, the principal town of the region and its weekly market. Off to my bank where I learned my account had been frozen – (Brexit already I wondered) but no, only some security issue which required 5 unintelligible pages of printing, in duplicate, to be signed in a dozen places. I love this town and hope the scaffolding on its ancient tower will not take as long as the driverless train from Pisa airport. There was Nadia to visit for shoes (not me this time) and the elegant Sandra for her upmarket dress shop (ditto) and then off on a half hour drive through the hills towards the Versillian Coast for an extraordinary lunch at Ceragetta … about 25 taste sensations including 3 different dishes of pasta, 3 types of meat, an inordinate number of antipasti and numerous other things that, with wine, coffee, water and desserts came to 20 Euros per head. Exhausted we went home to sleep and I to swim.
Friday, Kerry’s last day we entertained my diplomatic friends from the villa and two wonderful artist friends, Shona and Michael, Australians I met 13 years ago when I organised a 3 day Festa around Lucca for the 80th birthday of the matriarch of one of Australia’s First Families. Shona mainly works in bronze, Michael in marble and they both paint. We had a wonderful afternoon of great food and conversation learning of the spring under Australia House in London and other very interesting bits of its history, and inevitably on the eve of an Australian election, politics that seem a million miles away from the tranquility of these hills.
Finally time for a last look out my window and my last night in the barn – 0h now I love that place! And now, another adventure awaits as I pop down to the station at 9.03pm tonight but not before the siesta that has become an absolute must each afternoon.
Until next time