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.