August 25 2013
It would seem that wherever one is in the northern hemisphere, there comes an evening or two in late August, when Autumn sneaks in for a preview; a slight chill carried on a sudden breeze that has you wondering whether to reach for a shawl or a sweater; the way the trees shiver, and something else, intangible, yet palpable.
It happened here this week, in spite of daytime temperatures in the high 80’s. And you can see it in the garden; a weariness in the blossoms as if the pressure to keep producing is just too much. Fields of sunflowers are already bowing their heads in readiness for the guillotine. I’m not ready to bow my head to another season yet, although I do long for rain and the relief from the daily, sometimes twice daily, watering routine.
We travelled to another valley yesterday, some forty minutes from here, to lunch with new friends. A New York couple, she a photographer and he a writer, would be a good fit if only in the sharing of careers, but added to that mutual understanding, is a profound love of Tuscany.
Deep in the countryside, they have built a simple home on an exquisite piece of land, which they have worked with all the passion and courage of the contadini: from the outside forno, fashioned from the clay earth, to the terraced land, the vegetable garden, stone embankments and the pruning of the olive trees. Not to mention the nurturing of a plum orchard, the fruit of which surpasses any plum in memory.
We were joined by two other couples comprised of 3 Italians and a Brit, hailing from Milan and Florence, and all connected in various ways to the world of photography. We lunched on homemade gazpacho, meatloaf cooked in the forno and a devastating plum crumble; the oil and wine also from their land. Everyone spoke English and Italian although it must be said that the Italians beat us soundly in their proficiency of English. Nonetheless, there was a nice, musical give and take of sentences begun in one language and finished in another. And, added to the delight of this isolated gathering, was the joy of a little boy, the son of the Italian couple; this little family, a breathtaking triad of beauty, good humor and intelligence.
These rare social moments that we partake of are not always as stimulating as was this one, but when they are, they allow us to step out of our isolation and reconnect with the outside world in exactly the way we wish to i.e., with the give and take of curiosity about the other; an egoless meeting of the minds and hearts, and the pleasure of a momentary love affair between a 2 ½ year old boy and a 67 year old woman.
By the time we were devouring the plum crumble and a chocolate pear cake, a sudden squall arrived and we scurried inside for coffee. Then, as is often the case here, the sun came out before the rain stopped, disappearing as if to let the rain finish its act, before returning in time for us to play a little unstructured soccer; the democratic prize being a raiding of the plum trees before departure. Oh, the plums. The newly fallen, hot-skinned, succulent-fleshed, wicked plums. And the firmer fruit, picked from the branches and carried home for jam-making.
It was 6 in the evening when we drove back to our valley, the air sweetened by the rain, the sun already lowering, the hills rolling one after the other in textures of corduroy, grain, and shabby velvet, their colors, here ochre, here sand, the occasional faded green and how about that rust-hued one over there with its deep purple furrows, all radiant in the evening light.
Unfortunately, the squall on yonder valley had not visited our dales and so I donned my gardening boots and wrestled with the hose for half an hour, whispering encouragement to the valiant plants. Joel, meanwhile, prepared a salad for our supper. For dessert: pecorino cheese slathered with plum innards.