December 19, 2014
A brilliant day. From the moment we awoke to the force of sunlight pushing though white fog; a strange experience of illuminated blindness. By mid-morning the fog had evaporated leaving the spotlight to the winter sun, which accompanied us until its last breathtaking moment.
During these short daylight hours, as we spin ourselves stupid toward the solstice and the ridiculousness we call Christmas, I feel the energy that gratitude blesses us with when we know that we are right where we want to be. On a day like this one can’t do enough; the possibilities are endless. From salving the sad, tired spirit of Joel, whose skin cancer removals 10 days ago, have left him with open wounds, the pain and tension of them robbing him of his usual cheery self. Why men are loathe to have a good cry I’ll never know.
And so the day made itself known as one that would have us going in different directions: Joel to his desk and me to whatever came next. Even a rotten crossword puzzle with breakfast couldn’t dampen me. Certainly not, there was weeding and raking and sweeping to be done; the earth dirty with itself and the rot of all things fallen. And then to the village for ribbon for the curtain rings to hang from; for plump chicken breasts from butcher the senior, who melts me every time he calls my name. And on to the Erboristoria to consult with Alessandra, a good witch, as to what magic potion to bring home to Joel.
Only in Italy would you be able to buy Colostro (colostrum); the breast ambrosia that arrives before the mother’s milk comes in. A thin, limited supply of everything a baby needs to nourish it into a healthy life. The Colostro Alessandra gave me contains all the ingredients found in this maternal juice…and I must say, my baby’s looking better already.
And on. To the toy shop where I found the golden lights I had envisioned placing around the bottom of our lemon tree which is bravely wintering in the library. Next stop, Cerca Trova, basically a five and dime, but translates literally into: “You look, you find.” More success…candles. And then to Tutta Frutta, the grocers, for a bag of succulent dates and a dozen clementines.
In each of these shops, I stopped and chatted with proprietors and customers, each of us remarking on a particular sadness that can be felt this season, in our little village. We all agreed that several years of bad economy has dampened spirits; the continual hope that next year or the next would be better worn down to disappointment bordering on depression.
I was grateful to have enough Italian to be able to share my thoughts about this. It seems to me that the consumerism that has come to represent a Merry Christmas puts a pressure on us that many are unable to fulfill. I said that the real sadness is to see a culture like this begin to forget itself; that Christmas originally stood for love and compassion and an equality that allowed both kings and shepherds to welcome a child into the world. All of these qualities are inherently and deeply Tuscan, yet are nonetheless on the perilous edge of disappearing, leaving us in a world of fog unlit by the sun.
Mind you, I did have my own moment of imminent failure to provide when, on entering Bar Moderno expressly to purchase their coffee ice cream, I saw that the gelato counter was closed for the season! Oh, no! How could I possibly break the news to my dear friend Sharon who, with her husband Paul, is coming for Christmas? Sharon needs her daily dose of café gelato the way a flower needs the sun. But Tuscany to the rescue!! After several calls to surrounding villages, the Artisanal Gelato man in Montalcino said he would make a kilo just for me and that it would be ready tomorrow! That’s the spirit.
Revived, I prepped the ingredients for our dinner, and laid the fire, deciding to drive back to town to ask the tailor to affix the ribbons on the curtains. I walked out the door of our house and literally gasped. The light was so intense that the garden looked lit for a film set. It was nearly 4 o’clock and as I drove our country lane I started to weep. To be amidst such beauty was to be vividly alive in the moment. It was as if the sun had entered the earth and come back up through the roots. Every branch and leaf and blade was bursting with color of an intensity bordering on terrifying; as if the blood of nature was lit from within.
I had planned on running another errand after the tailor, but knew I would miss the sunset if I did and so I headed for the hills and home. Home to our valley, the curl of smoke from our chimney rising as the sun fell.