28th December 2015
Days, weeks in fact, of fog have shrouded the valley here; fog, dense and alive, ominous and mysterious…and very wet. It is as though the rain can’t be bothered to form itself and instead has lowered its clouds to meet the earth in a steady soak of mist.
The only people around here who are grateful for the fog are the farmers and me. The farmers because the winter crops depend on autumn rains of which there have been none for 6 weeks. But this density of mist-laden air, day after day, is a slow steady soak on the earth and mud boots are in order. The chingiale are pretty happy, too!
I am experiencing a certain glee that the fog exists outside of my brain for the first time in months and for sure the best Christmas gift I received was the return to full physical and mental health. And whereas during the months of illness I was unable to escape the mental fog, now when the mystery of real fog turns to gloom we just hop in the car and visit hill towns where we explore secret alleys, shop for groceries and sit at sunny tables enjoying a coffee.
How fine is the line between the mystery of a softened landscape and the fog of confusion? The former a gift that we are free to enjoy because we are aware of what lies beneath; the latter, a somewhat scary experience because it feels like it is reality.
To be unable or unwilling to see clearly are human states we all reside in from time to time and who is to say when it is appropriate to wait it out or when to take action? However, it is best to remember the damage that can be done by any of us if we refuse to accept these moments of confusion and instead insist we have the answer. The documentary, “The Fog of War,” comes to mind and the horrendous loss of life brought about by confused ‘leaders’ whose fragile egos insisted they knew best. In that war it was Vietnam, but any war can be substituted as an example.
But let’s leave the fog for now, get in the car with good friends and drive to Bagno Vignoni, the ancient roman Spa village where a sunny outside table is waiting for us along with wild field greens picked that morning, followed by slow roasted pigeon tender enough to be the dove of peace.
It’s the day after Christmas, although it is still very much Christmas here in Tuscany where there is no confusion as to the meaning of it. Gift-giving here is minimal and more than likely will be culinary: a hand-woven basket of homemade jams, bottles of wine and vin santo from a neighboring farm, a rich egg-y panetone – the traditional Christmas cake – this one made from a grandmother’s recipe. Decorations are humble; a simple string of white light, some red berries, a few pine cones. My favourite tree this year is in the piazza in Montalcino; simply decorated with white paper plates on each of which is written a quote about peace and love…quotes from around the world.
Nicely stuffed with flora and fowl, we drive on and up to Pienza an exquisite Mediaval town known for its cheeses; fresh or aged, wrapped in straw, or leaves, or ashes; spiked with peppers or truffles, or oozing cream. The day after Christmas here is the day all the relatives get together and so the cobblestone streets are full of generations of families. Sharon and I find a shop with hidden drawers filled with ancient fabrics from Turkey. Museum quality, we drool over each one as the young shopkeeper tenderly removes them from their slumber.
In the piazza an age-old game is taking place between the village men. Discs of dense fruitcake 6” in diameter and 1” thick, are flung down a long table at the end of which a man with a ruler measures how close each throw comes to the edge. The roar goes up for one that teeters half on, half off. Across the piazza Silent Night drifts out of the old church. We enter and stand with a couple of hundred Italians as the choir and small orchestra tell the ancient story. Once again I think of the refugees looking for a place to sleep, to eat, to give birth.
And once again I feel gratitude for the life I have…and sadness…and confusion…surely there is something I can do to help?I’m posting a link here to a wonderful article by Mandy Patinkin.
It seems to me a lot of confusion is manmade, (women, too) as a way of masking fear. Good old fear; the root of all evil. Perhaps instead of writing a list of New Year’s Resolutions we should write a list of all that we fear and read it out loud to ourselves and someone else. Then, once we’ve had a good laugh at a) how unfounded some of our fears our and b) the absurdity of living our lives trying to prevent the things we fear, perhaps then we could ditch the shame and pride and write a gratitude list and maybe even find the courage and generosity to share some of our abundance with those in need.
Which reminds me of a Christmas Eve here many years ago. We went to the midnight mass in the village church and listened as perhaps 20 villagers, one after the other, walked up to the lectern and spoke of what the Christmas spirit meant to them. The one that has stayed with me ever since was from a woman who was then the age I am now. She said, “The spirit of Christmas is giving to those you least want to give to.”
To all of you I give my thanks, for your love and loyalty and for the unseen but very much felt energy that I receive from you. I wish you all peace and love, kindness and courage for 2016.