Friday, August 12, 2011

A Year Ago Last Week

Well, didn't mean to wait this long, but here we are.

My last full day in Italy, last year, took me to Strove. I'd been there once before, in the spring of 2008, when my friends drove me down there for the day. Strove is Paolo's hometown. I saw the house where he was born, the school he attended, and the church that Tosca had given me a drawing of several years earlier. It's a sweet little town nestled in the area just south of the Chianti region.

This time I took a bus. The bus trip to Strove became more than a bus trip on a Sunday afternoon. Before leaving on this trip, I had been pretty heavily occupied with translating Tosca's memoir, her story of growing up in Tuscany, of being a little girl during World War Two, of meeting American soldiers, of close encounters with German soldiers, of hiding out in a cave for days, of losing family members in tragic bombings. At the time of my trip, the war was still going on in the part of the book I was in.

So driving past the American military cemetery, and driving through Poggibonsi, the town where Tosca grew up and many of her memories were made (though little remains of the Poggibonsi she describes, due to the bombing), and seeing San Gimignano from a distance, as she describes seeing it as a child--all made for a sense of sadness and somewhat surreal intensity.

But then the bus dropped me off, and Paolo arrived in his car to pick me up, and I was fully back in the happy present.

We had a lovely lunch, joined by son Riccardo and his wife Silvia and by Luciano, a family friend from Florence. Soon after lunch, Paolo and Luciano were off for a Sunday afternoon hunt. Paolo has a special license for hunting year-round a certain deer-like animal that has been invading the vineyards due to overpopulation. Riccardo and Silvia were off to I-don't-remember-what, and Tosca and I had the rest of the day and much of the evening to ourselves.

We went out for a passeggiata, a walk, along the main street that soon becomes a little road out into the countryside. We talked about our lives in the two years since seeing each other last, we talked about the plants we saw along the way, we talked about the Via Francigena.

At one point, Tosca pointed to a large villa on top of one of the nearby hills. "Do you know who is spending the month in that villa? Just guess." Of course I had no way of guessing, but she had a way of knowing, because Riccardo does the landscaping for the villa. "You won't believe it. Umberto Eco and Renzo Piano," with a pause for effect.

Well, I confess that though I may have heard the name Renzo Piano, I didn't know who he was (a world renowned architect). But Umberto Eco!--just before the trip I had been listening to an interview with him on his career, semiotics, and what he thought about computers. It was rather strange and amazing to think that Umberto Eco was staying up there on that hill not so very far away, and could have been looking down in our direction while sitting outside on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, for all we knew.

Besides looking up to high places, we also looked down the road at one point to see a group of pellegrini, college-aged pilgrims, with backpacks and an occasional walking stick, making their way toward us. One of them asked how far it was to Monteriggioni. Tosca's answer brought a tired sigh and an inquiry of whether they might be able to spend the night in Strove. They were from a church in northern Italy and were walking a long way, all the way to Rome. Tosca told them the town had a space for pilgrims and how to find it and who to speak with, and they went on their way.

We also met a Churchill-looking bulldog out for a walk with his person. He was very sweet and surprised me by jumping up to greet me. As huge and heavy as he was, I didn't expect he would be able to jump.

After a while, we headed back into town ourselves and ended our little pilgrimage at her house. We spent the rest of the evening going over the part of her book that I had translated, and having supper and visiting out on their sweet balcony. Paolo had informed me earlier that theirs is the only house in Strove that has a balcony, so it has become a very photographed site and is probably seen all over the world when tourists go home and show their pictures!

So, here are a couple of photos of the balcony from inside the house--not the views most tourists get, I don't imagine.

Tosca insisted on preparing supper by herself, giving me time to sit out on the balcony and wonder at the beauty of the evening and the strangeness of airplane travel. A week and a day earlier I had been in hot, humid Memphis with its car traffic and FedEx airplane noise, with the frustration of trying to find an office to rent for my practice, still unpacking boxes from our move.

And here I was, surrounded by roses, petunias, and begonias on this terrace in a tiny town in Tuscany, itself surrounded by sculpted hills as far as the eye could see without a tall building in sight, Umberto Eco up on the hill to my left, the only sounds those of a small village--the voices of the family eating dinner below me, the clink of silverware, Tosca's voice occasionally calling out to assure me she wouldn't be long, and the cooing of the doves on the roof of the house across the street. Peace settled over me, and gratefulness--for beauty, for friendship--welled up inside me.

It was a lovely evening, a year ago last week!

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