September 22 2013
We’re being blessed with Indian summer right now; warm days and balmy evenings are back for a limited appearance; a lovely coda arriving at just the right moment, for not only is this the week of La Sagra – the annual, week-long harvest festival – but we have long-awaited friends visiting form New York…our first visitors from America this year! And they bring with them their precious 16 month-old baby boy. As we had hoped, not only is the weather a warm welcome, but so is the welcome of our Tuscan friends.
We spent the preceding week preparing, a big shop in Siena for organic, dairy-free foods as the baby has allergies, and then the need for baby equipment. Silvia and Vincenzo go up to the attic and bring down the lovely wooden crib that had been their children’s. And, as if she doesn’t have enough work to do, Silvia takes it back to her house and cleans it, bringing it back with sheets and blankets to spare. We had thought we might buy a highchair but no sooner do we mention it than she brings us the perfect portable type that clips onto the table. Our friend Rupert makes a toy from treasures he found washed up on the shore on a recent trip to Madagascar and the day of our friends’ arrival Silvia returns with a Winnie The Pooh for him. All these preparations make us realize how much we’ve missed grandparenting.
And then they arrive, after 16 hours of brutal travel, and one wants to just cradle them all. What courage it takes these days to make a long haul trip with a baby. From the anxious drive to the airport in rush hour traffic, to the snaking check-in lines, the horror of security, the cramped space in economy class, not to mention the foul air and food. And then, after a night of no sleep and a 6 hour time difference comes the mind-boggling navigation of customs and baggage and finding one’s way to the car rental. And if that’s not enough to threaten the survival of a marriage, one must then imprison the toddler in a car seat and drive for four hours on unfamiliar roads, complete with unforeseeable detours. Really, that there is such a thing as a tourist trade might be the 8th wonder of the world!
Yet here they are, the tired little family with their sweet, sweet boy who has already fallen in love with the cows, met the new sheepdog puppy, eaten his first farm fresh eggs, learned to say Ciao, is highly fascinated with every stone in the yard, throws his head back in a thigh-slapping laugh, kisses us hourly and this morning, joined us – sort of – in singing happy birthday to his Mama.
And if this is not joy enough, yesterday was the first night of La Sagra. Basically, for a week, the entire village becomes a kitchen and dining area. The town, divided into 4 quarters, each of which has its own community kitchen, goes to work cooking for approximately 1500 people. Tables are spread through every courtyard and alley and you are either cooking, serving, bussing or eating. We, of course, are in the latter category and last night, were joined by Gianni and Luana.
What absolute joy to see this toddler so at ease, walking amongst the tables, waving at everyone, dancing to the music and sucking down pasta until he was comatose. And the food! Last night in our quarter: antipasta, tagliatelli with porcini mushrooms, succulent duck with roast potatoes, tarts and cakes and for those who do, wine and vinsanto. And then around the corner of the ancient alley comes Pepini and his accordion. We hadn’t seen Pepini since he serenaded us after our wedding ceremony, 12 years ago, his music filling the air where our vows had just been made, our party of 50 spontaneously forming a dancing circle…and he played us all the way along the road back to the farmhouse where our wedding feast was waiting.
By now the baby was exhausted and so the little family drove back to our house while we, with Gianni and Luana, strolled through the courtyards and streets, somewhat amazed at how many people we know here. The town was throbbing with energy, every age on show; the sleeping babies, frenzied toddlers, the pre-adolescents busy serving and bussing tables, the teenagers dress in their trendiest outfits and on and on, to the old lady peering out of her shuttered window.
This cycle of life, which of course exists everywhere, here seems so much more vital. Is it the containment of the medieval walls, the ghosts of a thousand years revived once more? The insistence on maintaining tradition is one of the things we love so much about this town and, at times like this, rather than segregating youth from age, it brings it together in a grand hallelujah.
Back at the farm, the baby sleeps, his wooden rocking horse, (yet another gift from the farmers) a sweet dark silhouette outside the kitchen door. And the cycle of life will be ongoing this morning as yet another calf is born, while in the field a cow who birthed just a week ago, lays dying.
Yes, it is sad, but it is pure. It is nature taking its course as it does with all of us. Yet La Sagra reminds us not only that we reap what we sow, but that we are still ripening. We may look like wrinkled fruit, but our hearts are filled with energy and good will rising.