June 8 2013
The layering of sounds, as I sit outside mid-afternoon, is so intense and profuse that it momentarily blinds me. That is to say, the aural world is at times so overwhelming here that you can’t, at the same time, take in the visual to its full extent because it feels as though to do so would obliterate one of the senses, if not both.
There is an unknown quantity and variety of birds in a nearby Quercia tree whose argument is without cease. I have no idea what they are communicating to each other, or if any of them – and there are probably close to fifty – are listening to each other, but the sound is urgent, as if they’re trying to organize without the benefit of a leader.
A bull, in the pasture below me, bellows his displeasure as Vincenzo herds him and a dozen vitelli into the pasture for feeding. Vincenzo, always in a gentle but assertive tone, improvises a series of grunts and calls and whistles and within minutes the herd is where he wants them. A wind picks up, rustling and whooshing through the broom, the trees, and on through the wheat. Someone on the farm is using a grinder, its teeth gnashing at metal. A cock struts a cock-a-doodle-do; a bumblebee staggers into the petals of one of my new roses, its buzz somewhat perfunctory; and still the birds put forth their choral propositions.
Maybe it was a cacophony such as this that spoke to John Cage of the silence of music. All I can say is, I’m glad I’m not in Rome.
Now, Siena, that’s another city altogether. Maybe it is its circular nature that keeps its energy renewed while at the same time, and the city’s decision back in the 50’s to disallow all traffic except delivery vehicles – and those surprisingly scarce – that balances the energy with a serenity born of security. And, of course, not least of all is the city’s well-tended medieval beauty.
We spent the whole day there on Tuesday, from 10 in the morning until nearly 7 in the evening. It was one of those days that sail by taking you along on a gentle tide. In the morning we strolled back streets and alleys where, unlike our recent experience in Rome, the artisanal and the ordinary are alive and well; streets perfumed with a heady blend of pastries, coffee, bread, fruit and the dust of ages.
We lunched at our favorite restaurant there: Osteria Le Loggia, and were greeted by hugs and kisses from the staff before taking our time to ingest 5 courses that included: barrata drizzled with oil and mango, chicken liver mousse encased in delicate tubes of pastry, a simple handmade pasta with garlic, oil and pepperoncini, roasted pigeon with cherries and pistachios, beef cheeks sucking in a deep wine sauce, a delicate salad and then, after a brief respite, for me a coffee semifreddo accompanied by grated chocolate and a scoop of homemade mint ice cream, while Joel ruined himself with a gianduja.
After an espresso apiece, we ambled down the cobblestone street some 25 yards before surrendering our bodies prone on the brick beach of Il Campo where, under a gentle sun, we dozed awhile.
Late afternoon, we wended our way in and out of shops and streets, soaking up the elegance of this city, which somehow manages to remain a mystery while feeling comfortably familiar. Then, sated, we drove through the evening landscape back to the farm, back to the cows, the sheep, the birds; back to the serenity of our simple bedroom, still too full from lunch to need dinner.
It feels like we’re in our rhythm now, now that we’ve made the house home and Rome is behind us. We made several trips to various nurseries this week in order to add to my container garden and the last two days I’ve spent repotting and transplanting a climbing rose, a shrub rose, more lavender, strawberry plants, a wheelbarrow full of petunias and cascading phlox, oh, and a good looking lemon verbena from which I will make afternoon tisanes. A lovely ceramic trough now houses the herbs I brought from Provence and sits on a step outside the kitchen door.
It’s not the Cape Cod garden, which will probably always remain my crowning achievement as a gardener, having taken it from its barren sandlot, to a wild seaside heaven that, along with vegetables and herbs, honeysuckle and lavender, boasted 11 trees and 9 varieties of roses when we left it 2 years ago. But, in fact, my little Tuscan container garden is just the ticket: varied enough to give me the morning pleasure of inspection and deadheading and small enough to make the evening watering a small delight instead of an hour-long chore. And, here in Tuscany, you don’t baby plants so much; they are encouraged to become hardy, like the people. This is not a garden I will have to fret over when we take a weeklong trip to the Amalfi coast next week.
When I look up now from my small garden, I see eternity stretching out before me in the form of the hills, just now turning from green toward gold. On one of them a flock of sheep are scattered like cotton wool. I see the cows, ambling down to their watering hole. The birds seem to have come to an agreement, commenting sporadically. A car comes down the road in a cloud of dust. I can’t remember the last time I heard a plane.