June 15 2014
Our lemon tree, heavy with fruit, is in blossom again. Its perfume so piercingly sweet it makes you stagger. All 3 olive trees, planted at the beginning of May, are now loaded with infant olives, thousands of them, each the size of a round pinhead. The climbing roses, which I feared I had killed during transplant, are surging with new canes, all of them headed toward the arch over the garden gate.
Yesterday I dug in 30 basil plants and another lemon verbena. After two weeks of scorching weather, the climate regressed yesterday; temperatures dropped and rain fell. Not exactly basil weather. And yet, this morning I found them all to have grown at least an inch overnight. How mighty. It’s what I love about living close to nature…it will always surprise and inspire you. For sure, it will just as easily disappoint and damn you. An increase in the wild boar (cinghiale) population this winter has resulted in a nightly invasion of a small herd nosing their way under the fence and heading for the leccio trees out back where, having knocked aside the outdoor furniture, they grunt and root around in the rich earth upending Silvia’s hydrangeas which she planted this spring from cuttings. These plants, barely conscious, have now been replanted every day for three weeks. And yet, their roots still struggling to take hold, they have nonetheless insisted on producing a few fragile flowers. Such Courage. And the generosity of their courage reaches out and strengthens mine.
After months of sending out the manuscript of my novel, I am back to work with new resolve. There have been rejections, which although accompanied by high praise, are dispiriting, confusing and ultimately interesting. After 19 years of formal rejection from the publishing world, I’m still prone to suffer. During this stage I swear never to write again and turn my attention elsewhere, for the last dozen years to the garden and to helping other people, the rewards of both not only nourishing to all, but rejuvenating to me as a writer.
Yet the confusion always remains. Are the rejections wrapped in praise in the mistaken belief that in so doing they will be more palatable? I’m sure there is truth to this. But what confuses me is that the nature of the praise has been consistent: “wonderful language, emotionally engaging, believable characters, interesting storyline”….and then, the inevitable “sorry, but not for us.” I used to wonder if that’s how it went with my blood mother. Did she look at me with silent praise then decide I wasn’t for her?
But who cares? Finally, not me. It’s just another story. Take it or leave it.
We recently ran away from our new home and spent 4 days on an island off the coast of Tuscany. And no, I’m not telling where. Think of this as a treasure hunt if you will. The part of the island where we stayed is so remote that you can only reach it by a small boat, which docks you in a lovely cove. There, 300 stone steps await your ascension. Still want to know where it is? The luggage travels up to the inn by a sort of ski lift and sits smugly watching you pant your way up to paradise.
And it is paradise. A small, family run hermitage; clean, bare bones, totally without frill or pretension; definitely not for the luxury-minded. And yet what luxury to be completely taken care of by these generous characters…and they are characters. One feels cradled by the family one always wanted.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner, prepared by Barbara with produce from the organic garden; yogurt and cheese from their goats, fruits and jams from the orchard and, of course seafood as fresh as it gets. Each day, after breakfast, we’d lope down the steps to an adjacent cove and stretch our pale, tired bodies beneath the glorious sun, sitting up every few minutes to relish the boat-free sea. And then, the slow, heat-dazed climb up those steps, to lunch, a nap and perhaps another foray to the sea. We played ping-pong under an arbor of passion flowers, the metaphor of which removed any desire for competition.
On the third evening a small troupe of tango dancers arrived and after dinner the tables were moved aside and we watched as the women stepped into their strappy stilettos, the men eager to fetch them to the floor. One of the men described the tango to us as a dance in which two, off-balance humans come together in order to give each other balance. He said that while the legs always want to move forward, the torsos are impelled to remain in contact in order to maintain balance. The heart connection, I thought. When our hearts are connected we can move forward in a balanced manner. Perhaps politicians and bankers should be required to learn the tango.During our stay there were many heart connections made between guests and between guests and the family. We left replenished and grateful, intent on returning late summer. Three hours after we waved goodbye we were walking back through our garden gate, reveling with fresh eyes, in all that we have accomplished here.
And now I tango with the garden, with my novel, with our friends and, of course, with my dear Joel. The cinghiale have moved on to tango with the grain fields, Silvia and Vincenzo having warded them off from the hydrangeas with a combination of concrete and mothballs.
We each of us, in our own way, strive for balance: between work and play, friends and family, pleasure and pain, acceptance and rejection, disappointment and generosity. Life, like the tango, is intricate, bittersweet, sensual, at times heartbreaking. It is a thing of beauty teetering on the edge of a fall. The trick is to keep moving forward with an open heart.
NB: Many of you have been begging us to post photos of home and garden. We promise to do this as soon as our family has arrived. We want them to see it first, in reality…then you get to see it in virtual reality. With love from us both.