Tag Archives: laughter

2017/2018

31ST DECEMBER 2017

 

I woke up this morning to a sweet grey day, interrupted here and there with a burst of sunshine. We lit the fire and made our usual Sunday English breakfast, accompanied by Vivaldi’s cello concertos. Then I moved to the couch with the Sunday crossword and a cappuccino. Really, it doesn’t get better than that and I know it. So why did I feel the mist of sadness creeping in?

Some of it, I’m sure, is because Joel came down with a cold and bronchitis on Christmas Eve effectively cancelling our plans and the plans of friends who were to have come down from London to see the New Year in with us. Although I did a good job of looking after my man and literally keeping the home-fire burning, I didn’t always do it with good grace. The childlike part of me that still gets excited about Christmas, turned into childish disappointment when it got cancelled. And isn’t that one of the problems with all these rituals we insist upon? The need for bliss so easily turns to disappointment.

All that rushing around for days and weeks; buying too many presents and too much food as if to prove ourselves capable of generosity. We live in the Val D’Arbia, more than half of which has been stricken with influenza and bronchitis for the holidays, while the neighboring Val’D’Elsa struck a note of independence opting for a severe stomach virus. If it weren’t so wretched it would be hilarious, listening to stories of tables laden with food while whole families raced to their bathrooms.

And so, with Christmas over and done with we turn our thoughts to the New Year and once again idealism begins to take over, perhaps this year more than most, because don’t we all so desperately want to leave much of 2017 behind us? Don’t we all long for some unimaginable event to come along and set to rights all the evil doings of this past year, all the terrible suffering. This, I think, is really what was making me sad this morning; the sheer exhaustion of the political, added to the personal; in my case, having been ill for most of the year.

As I sat on the couch I could feel pessimism take the place of sadness; a feeling of why bother, the world’s a mess with no change in sight. Stinking thinking it’s called in AA, and the only way to change it is to take action…not to change the world, but one’s attitude: take away a ‘t’ and start with a ‘gr’ and you have gratitude. And how grateful I was to go out into the garden, to sit with my face to the sun. To pay homage to two roses which have had the courage to survive 3 weeks of hard frosts. One of them finally opened yesterday during a moment of warmth. I looked at it in wonder. A Cubana rose that in summer is a lush blossom changing hue from coral to pink to palest orange, this one was half the normal size, sparsely petaled and pale yellow. I felt humble by its willingness to survive, to live a brief life in diminished glory.

The other surviving rose is nestled among the remaining leaves of a Mme. Alfred Carrière climber. This little bud has held on for 4 weeks through drenching rains and violet winds. Never to open, it will one day fall to the ground; an infant rose that will be infinitely etched into my memory as a symbol of sweet tenacity. And this I would like to summon in myself for 2018: sweet tenacity and the humility of living life to the fullest even when diminished.

I received, like many of us, gifts I didn’t need and some I didn’t like, but three of them are treasures because of what they symbolize. One, a gift from Gianni and Luana, is of two antique votive hearts joined together by a tattered red ribbon. When I look at them I think of Joel and me: two separate beings joined by a river of love. The second treasure is a little broom given to me by Paul and Sharon, to be used to sweep away negativity. And the third, from my dear Joel, is a tiny leather purse, measuring perhaps an inch square. Inside lies a miniscule Jesus, arms eternally outstretched. I’m not religious, but when I opened it I wept. It was everything that Christmas, indeed life, should be, empty of money and filled with love.

 

1ST JANUARY 2018

We danced the New Year in. Six friends from four countries; all of us eternally youthful and hopeful. Paul roasted lamb on the fire, the meat tender and sweet and fresh from our farm. I made a lentil soup, lentils being a traditional New Year’s Eve dish here in Italy, symbolizing money. Humble money. Enough to feed the family and the animals and perhaps a new pair of shoes for the children. Sharon roasted whole garlics and shallots which we sucked out of their skins between mouthfuls of lamb and Luana’s roast potatoes. A salad of field greens from our farm, felt like a green remedy. Brunello wine was savored by the men while we women drank Kombucha. Between courses we got up and moved around in an effort to make room for the chocolate almond cake served with amarena cherries and coffee gelato. Perhaps it was this repast which fortified Joel, who, after a week of being shut in the house was able to rally for the evening.

Then we caravanned through the moonlit land to La Rimessa. A hare zig-zagged in our headlights before disappearing into the woods, on the edge of which a deer made a brief appearance. La Rimessa is Gianni and Joel’s and my studio.

A huge, ancient stone building originally used to house farm equipment at the end of a day’s work, it now houses our creative energy. We lit dozens of candles, cleared my art table of brushes and paints and, dividing into teams of women-v-men, began the panforte fling. A traditional game that we discovered two years ago in nearby Pienza, the game requires only a long table and panforte, a large disc of dense traditional fruitcake.

 

Standing back 6 feet from one end of the table, one flings it much like a Frisbee and whomever gets it closest to the far edge of the table is the winner. Last night’s victor was Sharon…

…who landed it not once but twice at the very edge, with Luana a close second. A win for the women and I couldn’t but help feel a good omen for the evolving power of women the world over. And so 2018 arrived in fine form, for surely laughter is full of open, spontaneous, joyous energy.

 

Over the last few weeks Gianni and I had been collecting old bells and ended up with a collection of 10 with which we began ringing in the New Year, first circling the studio before going outside into the tiny hamlet of Bibbiano. Good tidings we brought. The bells, which once would have rung daily from the necks of sheep and cows, in schoolyards, churches and doorways, each with its own tone from tinkle to clang, now filled the air. Released from their long silence they told/tolled of their past and rang joyously of rebirth. In the distance, through the mist, a spray of fireworks answered back and lest reality might near perfection, a local man appeared and fired his pistol in the air as if to signal the start of a race. And off we go.

Back inside La Rimessa, the prosecco was popped and Al Green and Aretha Franklin urged us to dance, moving into each others arms and then spinning out into space, candlelight illuminating our souls. And what would the start of a new year be without meditation? The six of us sitting in silence for 10 minutes before mindfully blowing out each candle, and with each exhalation, a prayer for the world.

To all of you I wish fulfillment. May we all grow kinder, share sadness and laugh longer. My gratitude to all of you for your loyalty and loving energy.

As always,

With love,

Maggie

 

 

HAPPY MONDAY TO YOU ALL

3rd December 2017                         HAPPY MONDAY TO YOU ALL

A couple of weeks ago I had the urge to write a simple essay for the blog based on a typical, ordinary week in our lives, here in Tuscany. And then, like so much in life, the urge got side-stepped, in this case by two, almost back-to-back, visits from young friends. Now we are alone again although the house still resonates with their loving, thoughtful, invigorating energy.

Although Joel and I have each other, nonetheless we live a fairly isolated existence here. Weeks can go by in which the only English we speak is to each other. And so these occasional visits are essential, not only for the exchange of new ideas and points of view, but also because, speaking for myself, I get to experience different aspects of myself which perhaps lie dormant during the periods in which Joel and I are dependent on each other and, while happily so, it is natural to fall into habits of communication with each other which, while rich in their own way, are also slightly limited, in terms of how couples create a language of their own.

Our first visitors, a couple in their 40’s from California, newly in love, brought not only the exquisite energy of that love, but also the energy of early mid-life; a stage in which wisdom, experience and loss have already shaped us to some degree. It seems to me to be a stage of life in which one is at a crossroads where the choice is between turning to a sort of jaded wariness or else choosing the preservation of hope which allows us to go forward with courage and belief in our dreams. The latter quality was abundantly evident in this couple and as a result they had kept alive their younger selves which, coupled with the physical energy still available at their age, completely rubbed off on us so that it was as though we were 2 teenage couples double-dating.

It would have to be said at this point that I am completely capable of acting like an idiotic teenager even when alone with Joel…and often do! But there is something about sharing this energy with younger people that is not only a load of fun, but which reminds us that age is ephemeral; that we each of us carry within us every age we have ever been and it doesn’t matter if the wrinkles and the creaky joints say otherwise, the truth is we can experience the inner energy of our childhood, or teens or any decade, whenever we want. To that end I believe it is vital to have friends of all ages because we need each other to awaken to the fullness of our being.

Our second visitor is in his mid-twenties. European to the core, he speaks four languages and laughs in all of them. He is the type of young person who gives you hope in these dark times when all news is bad news, when we are bombarded with the vile behavior that humans are capable of. It is joyous and encouraging to spend three days with such a young person who is capable of serious thought; of willingness to look at all sides of a situation; who is in no hurry to achieve success. What a gift to be seen by such a one; to feel age disappear. To exchange opinions and stimulate creative ideas. And when was the last time a young man brought you a loaf of bread that he made himself? That offering, to me, was as ancient and symbolic as the gifts borne by the Magi. And, I might add, the bread was fucking fantastic and I’m really cross I didn’t photograph it.

However, I did have the presence of mind to photograph these exquisite orecchiette that our neighbor, Silvia, had just made, with her own milled flour!  Delicate and wholesome, we devoured the lot for dinner with a wonderful chicken liver ragù made by Joel

The time we spent with these friends was the kind of ordinary time I had wanted to write about: shopping for food in various villages, stopping to chat with shopkeepers, hanging with our friend Gianni, preparing food together and sitting by the fire for hours at a time either reading or talking, and of course, much laughter. These are the things we do with or without guests and we are daily grateful for this simplicity. But what I love is to see how visitors, most of them living in towns or cities, so easily sink into the routine of this country life. You can see the surrender on their faces and in their bodies; the shoulders dropping inches, brows unfurrowing and after several attempts to jump up and do the dishes they finally give in to being taken care of.   What they give us in return is a sense of relevancy, of having something of worth to offer and, yes, the feeling that we are ageless.

In a little while I’ll go into the library where two big crocks of olives have been sitting in coarse salt for 2 weeks. It has not been a good year for olives in Italy because an unexpected frost in the spring killed the blossoms. But the three big old trees named after our children were loaded with olives, which we harvested three weeks ago. There were not enough to make oil, but too many to cure for eating so we gave lots away. The rest we washed, drained and put in wicker baskets to dry by the fire. Then Luana came by and showed us how much salt to add. Every evening I turn them in the crocks allowing those on top to have their turn in the salt, which by now is brine. On Tuesday Luana will return to help me rinse them and put them in jars with oil and garlic. Some will get pepperoncino added while others will get orange rind.

Learning this simple ritual is another thread that weaves us into the coarse cloth of this land. It is a simple, timeless chore that marks the passing of another season while connecting us to all that is still good in life.

Wishing you all a positive start to your week

with love, Maggie

ps.  OUR FRIEND IN FLORENCE HAS JUST SENT THIS PHOTO OF THE BREAD HE MADE TODAY!

THE GIFT OF A LIFETIME

23rd April 2017

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’ T.S.Eliot

It’s been a long spring, joyously so for the most part, although too hot at the start, so that the garden has a slight air of weariness, as if too much was asked of it too soon. But, oh, the bliss of returning here after two weeks away and finding the wisteria weeping from the porch roof; its perfume a swoon to the senses. I once called wisteria ‘the queen of ambiguity,’ only to find when translating that essay into Italian that here, in this gender specific land, it is masculine. Perhaps there is a botanical reason for this, but after spending a week in the company of my 7 best women friends, I can’t but think that the gender-choice was decided by some poor man unable to cope with its maternal sorrow.

Last year, shortly after I turned 70, I was sitting at my desk asking what I would most like to give myself as I entered my 8th decade. The answer came immediately: I wanted to spend time with all the women who have been of support and encouragement and inspiration to me throughout my life, including 2 who, although unknown to me less that 6 years ago, have gifted me with their wisdom and poetry, mainly through emails. And I wanted to spend this time with them in the one place on this planet to which I have been deeply connected, in this lifetime, since I was 3 years old.

It is the place I returned to on my own for decades, as a painter, and as a writer and as an ex-pat living in America. It was the place I could call my own; where I could feel my ancient spirit awakened by the wind and the sea as I walked for miles and hours upon the tufted cliffs, clambering down to my ledge to disappear into the sea spray along with the birds. It was the sense of belonging that I’ve always felt there that drew me there. I, who until a week ago, had no knowledge of my ancestral roots, felt instinctively that I belong there on those wild Cornish cliffs and moors.

The response to my email invite was swift: a chorus of Yes, although one would eventually have to drop out due to family illness. Yet even she was there, as you will later see. Over the course of the winter, I started envisioning what it was I wanted to share with these women; I wanted them to witness a part of me that they had never known; the part of me that comes from a sense of belonging as opposed to a sense of yearning.

Over those winter months, the ‘program’ evolved slowly, without pressure or need; a mix of walks, studio and museum visits, outdoor theatre, a cream tea on a farm by the sea and a private figure-drawing class in the famed studio of the St. Ives School of Painting. All the events were as rich an experience as we could have hoped for. But it was the conversation that held the ore. And we mined it at breakfast, lunch and dinner…interspersed with a few tears and much bawdy laughter.As Vivian observed, in her 70+ years she had never experienced sharing meals for 8 where every single time the group conversed as a whole. There was no splintering into pairs, except sometimes when we were walking. At table a topic would be presented or arise and then it became a pow-wow.

No-one, besides me, knew everyone else in the group prior to this adventure. We hail from 4 different countries: England, France, USA, Italy. One other beside myself has lived as an ex-pat, originally hailing from South Africa. The youngest, whom I’ve known for 23 years, is 47. The oldest, whom I’ve know for 44 years, will be 80 this year; the rest of us filled in the intervening decades. And so it was that these 7 women met for the first time under the big clock at Paddington station at 9:30 on 3rd April. By the time the train delivered them to St. Ives at 4pm, they were a unit. And after a few tears upon seeing them all together, I stopped being the leader and just became one with them.

At Paddington Station

Our diversity in age and background was our gold, not to mention our diversity in careers: one human rights barrister/judge; one actress/film-maker/interior designer; one dancer/writer/ceramicist; one photographer/poet; one musicologist; one therapist/quilter; one antiques dealer/innkeeper/shopowner, and myself. And let’s not forget Julie, who couldn’t come: podcast producer/author/ceramicist. We are all mothers; and we all mothered each other in the best possible sense. Half of us are married. The other half lives singly as a result of death or divorce. We are all mighty.

On our second afternoon Julie joined us via Skype to lead us in a fireside tea meditation. She had taken a single piece of brown clay, embedded with blue stripes (for the sea) running its length. Then she rolled it like a jelly-roll and cut it into 9 pieces which she hand-formed into little cups. Reserving one for herself, she had sent the remaining 8 to the inn and in her Skype presence we each randomly chose from the box. Following Julie’s instructions, I placed all 8 cups in a circle touching each other and A, whose 70th birthday it was that day, pour the tea in one unbroken flow and then we sipped in silence. Julie also joined us via Skype a few evenings later when A presented 3 exquisite pieces of music by Chopin, Debussy and Ravel.

Was it only 5 days and 5 nights? Or did we live forever among the ancients? All I know is that I am still feeling bereft of their company. And I do know that each of us experienced something vital: sisterhood, womanhood, our formidable strengths and our tender vulnerabilities; no competition, no judgment. This is something many women are missing in contemporary life. Only we women can bear each other’s sorrow, cup a hand around it and urge each other forward.

Two weeks later I am still feeling the upheaval that such a deep connection brings once severed. Then again, while the physical connection has been broken the emotional one can never be severed. Which is why, perhaps, it came as no surprise, a week ago, to discover via DNA testing, my ancestral heritage: Scandinavian, thousands of years ago; then Munster Irish and Southern English and most recently, Southern English…right there on the Cornish cliffs, where I once and always belonged.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T.S.Eliot.

drawing by Maggie