Monthly Archives: August 2016


28th August, 2016


There’s a sense of freedom one associates with summer, starting in childhood when the last bell of the school term heralded weeks of play, not to mention liberation from school uniform and all the pressure of learning. If one was lucky there might be a family holiday complete with an ice cream every day. But mainly it was day after endless day of play during which one learned all that can never be taught

Now, summer feels tired. The garden is tired, the farmers are tired and so are we. An ongoing heat wave imprisons us for hours in the cool of our stone house – for which we are grateful – and one feels cheated. More than that, there is an underlying threat of violence; the violence of nature. Whether it is Zika courtesy of a mosquito, or Lyme’s Disease via a tick, or the ground opening up beneath one’s feet.


On Wednesday morning we woke up to the news that an earthquake had disappeared people and towns and history and beauty, some 70 miles from us. The whole country has been sad for days. As if we didn’t already feel sad and frightened from all the global politics and terrorism, mother nature drives it home with an earthquake. Suddenly we feel betrayed by the one thing we foolishly believe will always be a source of comfort and, yes, freedom.

Summer, for many of us, equals nature; swimming in ponds and seas, riding bikes or ponies along lanes, throwing a Frisbee in the park, listening to the last birdsong of the evening floating through the bedroom window as we drift into sleep. That nature can obliterate us in the night, without forewarning, is to be reminded that nature can be a mean mother.

We had appointments and errands in Siena on Wednesday. Even on the hottest day it’s narrow medieval streets provide shade. But on this day the shade provided no solace. A shadow has been cast upon the land. There is something about this tragedy that carries the inevitable with it. Italy is basically a long, narrow peninsula whose spine is weak, flanked as it is by 2 major fault lines making it the most seismic prone country in Europe. We live outside the earthquake zone and because we are on elevated ground outside of the village, we are also outside of the flood zone. The village however, is not and has suffered 2 major floods in the last 4 years, the first of which knocked out 2 bridges and upheaved roads, the waters rushing through the streets and up through shops and houses to a level of 4 feet. As I’ve said before, there is no such thing as safety.

Yet just as crisis carries the possibility of opportunity, so tragedy provides the opportunity to express kindness and generosity. Our town, along with almost every other one in this country, mobilized a donation center immediately. Ours is a small , working class town struggling to survive its bankrupt government. Yet there we all were on Thursday and Friday, lining up with our bags of clothes and blankets, toiletries and cleaning supplies. Young and old working side by side; organizing, boxing, labeling, many of us weeping. On Saturday volunteers trucked the supplies directly to the victims.



Every nation, when a crisis hits it, likes to think it is the most generous, the most courageous, the most organized. It’s a shame we have to claim national ownership of such human attributes. Whether it is impoverished Greeks helping refugees out of boats or refugees helping Italian victims of an earthquake, we are all capable of stepping up to the plate. As much as Mother Nature takes, she also gives. For we, after all, are nature too; each of us struggling to make it through another day, another heat wave, another random act of violence.

Who knows why some of us have an easier time of it than others? Who knows why this rosebush is dying from the heat.

dying rose

While 3 feet away, this tiny thing clings to a stone wall, optimistically growing roots that have no hope of reaching earth. Perhaps it’s investing in the future should the day arrive that a strong wind displaces it, carrying it back to the earth.



15th August 2016


I arrived at 70 last Monday, having trekked towards it for months, only to find it a moving target which, when I finally hit it, broke apart, spilling sweetness all around me.


We had arrived in Edinburgh a few days earlier, having decided some while ago that the opportunity to spend time with dear friends while partaking of the Fringe Festival was a befittingly unique adventure with which to celebrate, on the 8th day of the 8th month, entrance into the 8th decade of my life. As the time for our adventure neared and the Tuscan temperature soared into the mid 90’s, we began to look forward to the bonus of a week in the 60’s with the occasional rain shower. I’ll just to a quick leap forward here to say that it took us about a day and half of shivering under an umbrella to begin longing for the Tuscan sun and our newly acquired ‘dondolo’, which had arrived the day before we left.


But what a week it was! Edinburgh, city of granite and spires, yet only ever a walk away from nature. Our exquisite room in a Georgian guesthouse, complete with a Michelin starred restaurant was only 10 minutes from the city center and yet was almost as peaceful as our Tuscan home, looking out, as it did, to the garden and a slop of wild nature.


Back in my drinking years, I was partial to a generous pour of single malt, neat, before dinner. In fact, whisky was the first drink I ever ordered; 15 years old in a pub in Liverpool about to go see the Beatles at The Cavern. I had chosen whisky because I associated it with masculinity and courage, 2 elements I thought I might need to make it through my teens. Even now, I can feel the knife of that first sip, hitting me between the shoulder blades. Although I wasn’t tempted during our stay, I could certainly appreciate the need for its amber glow amidst the dank grey stone, along with the rhythmic insult of rain slapping your face as the umbrella inverts itself beyond function.


Yet if scotch is inseparable from Scotland’s image, it is the warmth of the Scots themselves that is the true spirit of the Highlands. Literally everyone we encountered was kind, quick witted, chatty, and down to earth. From the entire staff at 21212, to taxi drivers, train conductors and the hundreds of people organizing and manning the Fringe which, by the way, was also celebrating its 70th birthday. Three thousand acts ran hourly at 400 venues from 10 am to 10pm everyday with a precision that belied its casual appearance. It is an event without equal and beyond comprehension and I heartily recommend it to all.

We saw 4 modern dancers perform exquisite choreography with such emotional connection that all four of us wept. We saw improv and jugglers and a ventriloquist, all of whom transcended their medium. We saw our friend Gideon Irving perform, My Name Is Gideon, his second year at The Fringe. He is an intimate performer who cannot be labeled: a musician, magician, comedian and story-teller with a deep streak of generosity and love. We saw a bare-bones play depicting the memories of children of war and the refugee crisis which had us sobbing with grief. We saw a Muslim comedian from Australia who gave us permission to laugh at the absurdity of racism and terrorism. And we saw one truly awful one-woman play which was so excruciatingly bad that my friend Viv and I got a near uncontrollable fit of the giggles…in the front row!

On the Saturday, we took the half hour train ride out to North Berwick where our friends were staying in a house swap. A beautiful, unspoiled seaside town famous for its golf course, it is during The Fringe host to the Highland games. A mighty gathering of 3000 pipers and drummers filling the air with controlled savagery. An interesting juxtaposition to our experience of the warm hospitality of the natives, and a reminder that we are none of us far removed from our own barbarism.

berwick wall

n.berwick sea


Did I mention the lobster?

L1002853 Maggie Lobster Sm

My birthday began with Joel presenting me with a book he had compiled of lovely impressions of me written by family and friends. A gift that will indeed go on giving should I ever have a moment’s doubt that my life has been of some small worth to others. And then there was the bracelet. The one he gave me on my birthday some 20 years ago. The one I wore every day until it mysteriously disappeared from wrist 2 years ago. For a moment, as I opened the box, I wondered how and where he’d found it. In fact, he’d found a photo of me wearing it, blown it up and taken it to a jeweler in Siena who replicated it.

Of course, nothing can ever be replicated. Loss is loss. And although a bracelet can’t be compared to a baby, nevertheless I experienced the same pang upon seeing it as I felt when my second daughter was born and, in the perfection of her being, experienced another layer of what I had lost when my first daughter arrived stillborn. But the gift of love surpasses loss, as I have come to know from the ever-deepening relationship with my daughter and the profound love my husband constantly shows me in his desire to try to make up for all the loss I have experienced.

So, I came home either a week or a year older, however one wishes to view the mad attempt to define time in a linear manner. In any case, it’s good to be home to the warmth, the light, the garden, the sun-warmed tomatoes Silvia leaves outside our door. And, truth be told, it is a relief to have arrived at this moment. To have finally let go of the need to appear younger and instead embrace the wisdom of my years while still allowing feelings of irascible youth to bubble to the surface. So what if the neck is its own crepe scarf…a smile in beyond measure.


If I am left with a lasting image from The Fringe it is this: Centre stage, caught in the spotlight, a swirl of smoke gradually dissipates revealing a piñata attached to a rope. Slowly the rope is hoisted, the piñata ascends and as it reaches it apex, 3 jugglers leap into the air taking wild swipes at it until, like life itself, it breaks open and sweetness rains down.