Monthly Archives: May 2016


15th May 2016                                SEASON TO TASTE


One of the many aspects I love about living in Tuscany is the equal division of the seasons. I thought about this again over our Sunday English breakfast this morning, a tradition for us, along with the accompaniment of Vivaldi’s Oboe Concertos. Perhaps only someone living here could have composed The Four Seasons, in which each movement is given equal weight. Here, each season is apportioned 3 months, a measure of time that allows for total immersion into the separate wonders that each season offers.

I had been concerned while in New York that I would miss spring here this year. In New York, as in most of the North Eastern States, spring and autumn gets a brief fling before jumping straight into full blown summer. Autumn, likewise, although extremely beautiful, still lasts but a few weeks before giving way to 5 months of never-ending winter. But when we arrived here mid April, spring was just gearing up; less than 3 weeks into the season it still had another 9 to go and I have been reveling in every one of them.


The days are warm enough to work in the garden in a long sleeved T shirt, the evenings cool enough for a fire. Sudden torrents of rain are followed by breathtaking light that seems to come up from the earth as much as it comes down from the sky. What joy to watch the lavender send its yet to open spears into the air; the roses burgeoning buds gradually scenting the air as the unfold. The gaura in the rockery is still a teas of wands whose flowers will dance like butterflies right through the autumn.

The garden, which I stated 2 years ago, looks as if it were here forever and is finally becoming the wild place I’d hoped for; a garden that looks un-manicured, even though it takes work to look that way; a place that blends with the majestic landscape beyond its borders.

before the garden


I grew up on the south coast of England, on the Gulf Stream; a temperate place that also had 4 equally apportioned seasons. I love the rhythm of living inside nature’s time, each season long enough to bask in, yet short enough to make one look forward to enjoying the next.

Earlier today we lay naked on the sun terrace. Now the sky has darkened against which the pink of the roses climbing the arched entrance to the garden seems unbearably tender as the petals shiver against the gunmetal clouds. A rumble of thunder heralds rain and soon we’ll make soup and light the fire.


All this beauty we breathe in every day and for us it makes a huge difference to our sense of wellbeing. For, let’s face it, life happens no matter where one lives. Beauty or no, I still had to have a bridge put in my mouth. The surgery to remove the failed implant, along with what was left of the surrounding bone, was a traumatic experience, perhaps made more so by the stress of Z’s illness. Oh, and anyway, let me be honest, I’m terrified of dental work, having had more than a fair share of nightmarish experiences dating back to the first at age 5 with the school dentist. So, couple the terror with the challenge of finding a new dentist in a new land in a new language and you might get the picture. Finally, I started making inquiries with Italian friends, one of whom turns out to be terrified of dentistry also. So, off to her dentist I went.

Wow! We walk the cobblestone streets of Siena to the medieval building that houses his state of the art practice: 3 waiting rooms with Italian designed furniture; 5 treatment rooms, one just for kids; smiling, loving assistants, and the dentist himself a kind, thorough, reassuring man….and he speaks English!!! After a consultation I made an appointment for last Friday and left feeling relieved.

Yet when the day arrived, terror came back for a visit. As always, I like to name the terror: What are you afraid of Maggie? Oh, that’s easy: pain, teeth crumbling because they’re too weak to support the bridge, something awful will happen like the drill penetrating my brain, or my heart will simply stop. Oh…I’m afraid of dying. Why? Because I like it here, because I like being alive in Tuscany and I don’t want it to ever end.

Talking about this Joel last night, we shared how each of us has reached an age where death makes its presence felt on an almost daily basis. It’s a strange presence, unbidden, a shadow that comes out of the shadows. And we cannot mathematically change the fact that we are in the winter of our lives. A brutal season winter; and yet glorious, the world laid bare to the bones and we with it. Shorter days giving way to lazy, cozy nights; the sense that one’s labor is over and each day is an opportunity to be present in that that day and that day only. And so we drove through the glorious countryside to the centuries old city and I thought, well, if today is the day, how lucky am I that it came down to this: well loved and surrounded by beauty.


The procedure wasn’t fun. I particularly hated the use of the hammer to remove the crowns…nothing regal there! But the needles went in like feathers and a little potion of something relaxing was offered, followed by 15 minutes of being massaged in a leather recliner while the anesthesia took hold; the room semi-darkened except for soft light that cycled through the colours of the rainbow. As I opened my mouth the dentist said, “Don’t think about the past.” Forty-five minutes later the bridge was in and Joel took me for a gelato.

It seems to me that winter is the season of acceptance; acceptance that everything must end: each petal, each spear of lavender, every tree and field, a tooth, a dream. All will be replaced, as will we. But until then let’s revel in the courageous cycle of spring.



NB. all photos for this post are by Joel Meyerowitz.








1st May 2016

We’ve been back in Tuscany for 2 weeks and 2 days now; a sort of twilight zone during which we have tried to surrender to the exhaustion of those 6 weeks in New York. And almost every day I’ve thought about writing, each time deciding not to bother; that I had nothing of worth to say. Yet during the last few days I’ve had the nagging realization that I’ve been waiting to be my old self before putting pen to paper; the self with positive energy; the self with creative energy; the self who can be wise and funny and generous. In other words, the self who would be acceptable and loveable because I had something of worth to offer.


So, here’s the truth. For 6 weeks I was in a state of red alert, attuned to Z’s illness. As is often the case with crisis, those weeks had a clarity to them, i.e., this is what’s happening and this is what you have to do about it. The requirements, while the details might change, were the same every day; to be of service to another human being in their time if dire need; to put aside my worry, fear, anxiety and do the next right thing. And so, together, Z and I journeyed through her twilight zone and I will say that we were both heroic. At times stripped into silent nakedness, we felt the profound connection that each of us had longed for, for 4 decades. Add to that the fact that we each nearly died in our early 40’s. Add to this, that each of us now knew that the scintillating terror of a near death experience is both humbling and deeply spiritual.


But I’m not in my early 40’s any more. 70 is fast approaching and my own illness last year, while well on the mend, had not completely refilled my tank. I knew I was headed for collapse, yet while leaving Z was as wrenching as losing custody of my daughter when she was 4, the difference now was that I knew Z would be all right and that shame was no longer part of the picture.


So, surprise, surprise, to come home and find that shame still reserves a seat in the ongoing drama of my life. When I was 10, I was quite ill toward the end of the school year, flu, probably. Whatever it was I could barely crawl out of bed. But for the last 5 days of that semester my mother dragged me to school because she needed me to be one of the 3 students in the whole city who would receive a diploma for 3 consecutive years of perfect school attendance and behavior.I remember on one of those mornings, collapsing on the sidewalk and sitting on the curb, my mother standing over me, demanding that I get up and get going. I got the diploma, presented at the Town Hall at the beginning of the next school year. I also got the message, courtesy of my poor mother, that when I feel ill or tired I cannot rest. If I rest, I will not get that diploma which says I am a good girl.


How do we wash these misconception away? How do we re-wire our cellular memories? By being open to giving and receiving love, I believe. The absence of love that the little girl on the curb most needed is still needed today. It is my Joel, these last 2 weeks, who each time he sees me struggling to get up off the curb, carries me home. It’s beginning to work. Recovery from some wounds takes longer than one might wish.

And it is Z, today, via Skype, whose love urges me to be kind to myself. I like to think that perhaps the greatest service I gave to Z during those weeks, greater than all the schlepping to and from Brooklyn and doctors’ appointments, was validating her need to sit on the curb and honoring her ability to listen to what her body needed at any given moment. The other gift Z gave me today, was encouraging me to be aware of the seduction of sadness. I’d say she hit the nail right on its rusty head. There is much to feel sad about during the course of life, and certainly one shouldn’t mask it, but neither should one wear sadness too long lest it become its own mask.

So here’s really why I haven’t written: I’ve been feeling sad. Sad about leaving Z, sad about Joel having sciatica, sad that I have no energy, sad that I lost an implant, sad that I don’t speak Italian fluently, sad that I had to cancel 3 book events, sad that one of the olive trees is dying, sad, sad, sad. Seduced by sadness rather than feeling the joy of a home to collapse in; joy of reading by the fire, joy of spring in Tuscany, the joy of the ginestra (broom) bursting like yellow popcorn, it’s fragrance soon to follow; the joy of Silvia bringing us fresh eggs; the joy of kneeling in the wet clover pulling weeds from the rockery, the wildness of the garden that now is a part of the larger landscape; the sudden flap of wings as 2 doves leave the oak tree; the joy of Z’s continuing recovery and the joy that I’ve lived another day beside my Joel.


I had thought feeling sad was an improvement over feeling shame…that’s seduction all right. The only righteous sadness here is for my mother whose need for a perfect daughter robbed her of having a daughter at all.