July 6 2013
Vincenzo comes down the road in his blue tractor; at a distance it has the quaint friendliness of a tinker toy, it’s that small in the vast landscape; a landscape now well on its way to the gold of summer. The hills, which were so deeply green when we arrived 2 months ago, have, after an unusually wet spring, finally been shorn of their crop. In a good year a Tuscan farmer can get 3 cuts, or harvests, but this year the spring rains made the 1st cut impossible. Now, after 3 weeks of sun, Vincenzo has made the second cut, toiling from pre-dawn to well after midnight, 7 days a week in order to cut and bale enough food to see the animals through the winter. Now the bales are gathered in groups, across the hillsides, like checkers before a tournament.
Every hill, as far as the eye can see, has been cropped by Vincenzo, who must now, with a fork lift attachment to the front of one of his tractors, lift, carry and deposit these bales under cover before a serious rain ruins them. Sometimes we sit in our deck-chairs under the big tree and watch in awe as he runs, always runs, from one machine to another. Now he returns with his green tractor pulling a bid red wagon in which sits an enormous blue tank that he has filled with water from one of several sources on the farm. He jumps down from the cabin, runs to the tank and hooks it to a hose so that Silvia, his wife, can water the vegetable garden. It will be thirsty after today’s hot wind.
It is Saturday afternoon as I write, so we know Silvia will be in her kitchen baking and if we’re lucky she will have made extra and we might expect a cake in time for tea. Now, having hooked the hose up to the tank, Vincenzo unhooks the wagon and drives the tractor to the barn where he hooks it up to another wagon filled with hay for the cows’ afternoon feed. He drives the tractor to the edge of road before once again jumping down, running across the road, opening the gate to the pasture, shooing the cows away, running back across the road, jumping back into the tractor and driving it to the feed stall where he empties the hay. The cows wouldn’t think of escaping through the open gate…food has arrived.
As I watch this ceaseless round of work I am saved from the guilty comfort of lolling in my deckchair by the memory of my own years at toil. Years, particularly in my 30’s, when my life as a dancer had ended and writing and painting time was snatched in the wee hours of the night while my little girl slept. Then, in the morning, I would begin the first of 3 waitressing shifts at 3 different restaurants. From 6 a.m., to 11, I worked the breakfast shift, serving eggs every which way to hung-over carpenters and tired lawyers. Then, switching my brown apron for a denim one, I’d run across the street to do the 11:30 to 2:30 lunch shift, catering to poor artists huddled over cold coffee, middle-aged wives with their BLT’s, and retired carpenters grabbing a burger before happy hour. After counting out the till, refilling napkin holders, ketchup bottles, salt and pepper shakers, cleaning the steam spout on the espresso machine and wiping the counters, I’d race home, wash my 2 aprons, grab a black one and run to the 3rd restaurant for the dinner shift. And somehow I found time to parent, write, paint, go to the disco once a week to dance and if I was lucky, get laid.
Vincenzo is now back in the blue tractor to which he has attached a metal trailer and is heading back up the road to load more bales. We, too, living here, have an endless cycle of chores. Of course, nothing compared to Vincenzo and Silvia whose workload often seems to border on inhuman. Yet they are both always full of smiles; perhaps that which can seem relentless often, in fact, provides us with a sense of worth and accomplishment.
The simplicity of this rural life suits us well. Three loads of laundry yesterday, no dryer, no laundry maid. But oh, the deep pleasure of the walk to the clothes line in the hot sun, beauty all around and the anticipation of getting into a bed of fresh, sun-dried linens. I clean surfaces and sinks, cut fresh flowers for all the vases and replenish candles, while Joel vacuums and mops. We go to town for groceries to supplement the basket of zucchini, cucumbers, green beans and eggs, which Silvia brings us. Joel has just made four jars of jam from some of the plums Gianni brought us and in a little while I’ll make squash soup.
Silvia has just come down to the vegetable garden to water and in a little while I’ll water my garden. The 3 galvanized metal containers I brought down from Provence have, in the last 2 months, expanded to 32 pots and tubs all of them now overflowing with petunias, verbena, lavender, geraniums, hydrangeas, plumbago, nasturtiums, strawberries, sage, basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, oregano, mint and hot peppers. I’m particularly proud of 2 antique, climbing rose plants which I rescued from a nursery where they had been mistreated. Now, repotted, pruned, sprayed and regularly fed and watered they are seven feet tall and growing; clusters of pale yellow roses opening every day.
And in between the chores we read and write, paint and make photographs and always find time to be with friends and go off on little adventures. Two nights ago we spent an amazing evening with 2 dear friends here who had invited 8 of us to dinner and a fire ceremony. We were 3 Americans, 4 Brits, 1 Norwegian, a Dane and an Italian. At 7:30 the bonfire was lit and the spirits of the four corners invited and then we were invited to partake of a breathing experience, which if I had been previously told about would probably have made me stay at home. However, as Joel and I had agreed at the beginning of this year to work on our individual detrimental qualities, and as my chosen one is to observe the ways in which I am defended, I realized that here was another opportunity to do so.
Nine of us went into the hosts’ yoga room and, guided by the 10th who is a “Breather,” lay down on mats, faces to the heavens, arms by our sides and mouths open and breathed for an hour. If ever there is an undefended position, lying on your back amongst strangers with your mouth wide open might be it. The inspiration expanding the stomach and chest, the expiration deflating them, the inward breath coming without pause, the letting go, the moving beyond discomfort, the opening of the throat, the sound of breath, the ensuing tears and laughter, the visitation, for some, by the dead, the gentle hands upon one’s shoulders, the expansiveness of being, the cycle of breath; the first thing we do when we enter this world and the last thing we do when we leave. The cycle of the seasons, the cycle of honest work; the cycle of life and the concentric circles of daily living, these necessities of taking care of the business of life can perhaps be viewed as a renewing cycle as opposed to a never ending routine. And yet, how blessed are those of us who have the luxury of experimenting as opposed to the farmer whose only opportunity to lie on his back and breathe through his mouth comes with the sleep of exhaustion.