Saturday, August 27, 2011

Road Trip

This is where I went today with my friend Judy!

I think it a most wonderful thing to be able to play the guitar.

And to have the name Emmanuel.

And to have lived a day like today.

More later, but now I can go to bed knowing that even though I didn't write last week, I made up for it. :-)

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Well, I haven't kept up my one-post-per-week commitment. On the other hand, it hasn't been quite two weeks yet, so perhaps I can squeeze in one tonight and one tomorrow to catch up?

As always, there are reasons for the silent interlude. In this case, I was sick for a while and got behind on things more important than blogging. And then my niece, bless her heart, was in a serious car accident. In addition to spending some time away from home to be with her and her family, I hope I may have vicariously absorbed some of the shock for her, because I certainly was not myself for the couple of days between the time of learning about the accident and finally getting to go see her for myself. There's just something very hard about being away from people you love when they are suffering. For me it was physically wrenching, as if I were literally twisted up in a knot until I got to her bedside and could hug the other family members and hold her sweet hand. Then everything untwisted.

She continues to recover valiantly, and life continues, so this week has meant catching up some more.

One of the highlights of my week is my piano lesson with my last-of-the-day Thursday student, Judy. You can see her curly hair silhouetted above on the Bartok she is working on.

And you can see the little sign I keep on our piano, as a reminder of exactly what it says. For my students and for myself. For learning to play piano, and for whatever else one might be feeling tempted to give up on.

I really just liked the way the sunlight fell on the paper today and made the little criss-cross pattern. Judy's lesson always comes at this time of day, and this isn't the first time I've said, "Keep playing," and walked out to get my camera. Maybe eventually I'll have enough photos for a series.

For tonight, though, I share this single photo in honor of my niece, who absolutely is not giving up. Ever. Ever. Ever.

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!