25th July, 2011
The other day we made the mistake of revisiting the past…or trying to. We knew as we turned into the driveway that we were making a mistake, but curiosity got the better of us. We have been noticing since we got here, that there are cranes and scaffolding on one of the farmhouses – on the estate that was our Tuscan home for so many years and wondered what was going on..
One of 6 houses on this estate where we taught for 7 years and where we eventually married. This one was the hub (although I’m sure the owners of the estate felt that their castle was the hub) in that it is where the classes took place as well as the 3 meals a day. It was also the site of our wedding feast and the dance that followed. So you can imagine the memories.
Gianni and Luana lived on the estate in those days as it was Gianni who had been hired by the family to restore the farmhouses and make something interesting of the place. And so he had, his true Tuscan spirit attracting people to the estate who, like him and like us, wanted to live and taste the “Tuscan” way of life.
How many nights, weeks and years did we spend at the long outdoor table, whether with students during workshop or family and friends during the week-long celebration of our wedding; looking down the stretch of the candlelit table to faces aglow from the light of storm lanterns, the music of animated, philosophical discussion playing late into the night? And then, up again at dawn to a feast of pastries, fruit and coffee before class.
It was a place of spiritual and physical beauty until the elderly woman who owned it bequeathed it to her children some 8 years ago. The children, lacking the Tuscan sensibility, within a matter of 2 years, irrevocably changed the place undoing much of Gianni’s authentic work in the name of modernity, until eventually, no longer able to attract lovers like us, they sold the place off bit by bit. This house was recently bought by some wealthy Europeans who, spare us, are turning it into a spa.
We drive past the old hay barn that 14 years ago Gianni had cleaned out for me to use as my classroom. “Il Tempio” we christened it because it was that holy. And it was Il Tempio we lit with candles and lanterns the night before our wedding, turning it into a theatre for one-night-only during which time our friends and family performed for us: skits, dance, poetry, music.
Now the building is barricaded. The house itself is under mammoth construction: ancient walls and doors eradicated and all the beautiful roses that surrounded it now brown, neglected, near dead. Except for one last rose which I take in the name of preservation. But preservation of what?
You really can’t ever go back. Another of life’s cliches from which I mine the realization that it is a form of stupidity to even try. It seems we either try to go back to something in the past in order to glean more of what was, which attempt seems almost a form of greed, as if to have experienced it once was not enough. The other reason we want to go back is, of course, to try and re-write history – a form of insanity.
So why did we go back? Surely we knew it would be dispiriting? It’s painful to witness the loss of a humble way of life that, because of its very simplicity allowed for the riches of shared kindred spirit. But maybe there is a third reason. Perhaps one has to go back in order to decapitate hope: hope that something of the past still exists and that with a little effort one can re-kindle it.
I believe it is necessary to give up hope for such things. It doesn’t mean you become hopeless in the sense of being resigned to loss, but rather one frees oneself to direct one’s energy in such a way as to attract the possibility of creating new, soul-enriching experiences – today, and tomorrow.
Yesterday was Luana’s birthday and we are invited to lunch. In the morning I walk the road in search of wildflowers to decorate her present, but within yards am caught in the first of what will be many downpours throughout the day and night. With only a wild fennel flower and some Queen Anne’s lace in hand, I cheat and snap off a scarlet geranium from one of our window boxes.
Joel will present Luana with a photograph she cherishes, taken last year up in Chiusure where the four of us had gone for dinner one night in a rustic cantina.
Over a lunch of Luana’s pasta cabonara, wild boar – cooked by Gianni in the outdoor wood-fired oven – roasted potatoes and vegetables, we find ourselves talking of loved ones past and present and how those who are gone remain with us in spirit.
After lunch we go home for a nap, agreeing to meet up later to dine and dance in town at the Contidini Festa. However, on our way into the village the heaviest of the day’s rains lets loose and the roads become rivers. So we head back to our house for tea and an impromptu birthday cake.
As we round the bend toward our house, the heavens part and a rainbow appears. If you were to follow its arc, one end would be directly over the house we had tried to revisit. The other end is beyond the horizon where the future awaits in all its mystery.