God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Old Man and Gelato

Surely on a shelf somewhere exists a book outlining requisite ingredients for books about Tuscany....romantic moments, rapturous flinging open of shutters to morning dew and golden sun, lush purple grapes bursting with future vino, country lanes and charming, smiling "locals." And, of course, the quaint renovation of an ancient farm structure where the pigsty becomes the kitchen and the wine press grows flowers.

It must seem strange to Tuscans that the rest of the world, particularly the English speaking portion, elevates this Italian corner of earth into a synonym for paradise. And--they must laugh at the innocence and naivety of such thoughts. Yes, the beauty is real and the people who have grown up with it do still see it and count their blessings. Yes, the sun does shine golden and yes, people do fling open shutters in the morning and breath in air scented with roses and herbs and grapes and history. Yes, farm houses that once were walls around poverty and hunger now surround riches and banquets. And, yes, Tuscany is magical and wonderful and unlike any other place.

And...life is normal there--pharmacies, butcher shops, supermarkets, book stores, shoe stores, ATM's, gas stations doctors and lawyers. The post office runs everything and is hated by all. Buses always run on time. The telephone company answers to no one and TV is Burlusconi's cultural wasteland. Life passes day-by-day just as it does in China, Canada, Chile and Chicago. And--paradise is still confined to the heaven in the skies.

So--what about The Old Man and Gelato? Well, they are right up there with the things I miss after realizing the dream of millions--a year in Tuscany. And yes--they do fit into that "book of Tuscany" that has been written and rewritten so many times. And I can add these things and more to my I Miss list and would include if I were to write a book of my love affair with fair Toscana-- which I am not going to do.

Sometimes I stand at the sink and a visual flashes across my eyes--unbidden and puzzling--but always bringing a flutter and a smile as I momentarily transport across the sea.

I see girls, children and teenagers, holding hands as they walk down the street, laughing and sharing secrets. I see Casey and Camilla hand-in-hand walking through Sunday market. I am reminded of innocence and purity.

I see women of many decades, arms entwined, walking hills whose every turn and detail they know many times over. They have walked these very hills hundreds of times during 20-30-40-50 years. They talk about I know not what but I imagine it to be children, husbands, crops, dinner, local gossip--probably the same topics the men are covering in the barbershop or on the benches in the sun.

I remember that everyone greets each other, stranger and friend alike, with "buongiorno" as they pass on the sidewalk or enter a store or have unexpected eye contact. This always accompanied with a smile--sometimes broad and sometimes shy. I remember how much I loved this.

And then, as I daydream at my sink, I cut myself on the thumb and reach into the cupboard for one of the treasures I brought back with me--bandaids that really stick and stay on through shampoos and showers. I love them and will bring back lots of them next summer.

Finally for this trip into nostalgia, we come to The Old Man. Every book, every movie about Tuscany features him. It is the tear drop moment. It is the quiet elderly, endearing neighbor man, seemingly untouched and unreached throughout the movie or book, who finally in the denouement offers a shy wave or wink or smile. He is saying "yes, I recognize you and maybe we have a future."

We had our man--from the day we arrived until the day we left. We drove by him day after day as he walked along the river walk. Within a week or two of arriving at our new home, we started sending him a smile and wave each time we passed. He would give us a quizzical look and then continue his walk or go on chatting with a companion. We really expected that someday he would fulfill his obligation and wave to us and share his smile but that never happened. The last day, on the way to the airport was his last chance and we left without it. Our hope was left unfulfilled, leaving room for a new experience when we return.

And gelato? Well, isn't that at the top of everyone's list? Maybe even the Old Man's.


Judith in Umbria said...

Even more surprising when we first get here are men who greet each other with kisses or walk down the street holding hands or hand on an arm. People just offer more physical warmth in friendship, and not just in Toscana.

I still thrill to the landscape and I just had my seventh anniversary.

Jane said...

Yes, you are totally right about the men--in fact, it was to be one of the "I misses" for my next entry on things I miss. And the views and landscape--what can I say other than I see them everyday in my visual memories. Oh--there is so much!

Anonymous said...

You are a talented writer, Jane. I was just reading through your past posts. I can relate to getting older, and yes, I am letting my true (hair) colors show through for the first time. I feel free. I am brave enough now to see who I really am, and what I really look like. Thanks for writing this blog. I hope you continue writing about Italy and life as you see it :)

Jane said...

I just flipped to your blog and will return when I can take the time to really absorb it. I know it will be a a delight.

Thanks for the nice compliment re. the writing and for the push to go gray. Problem is that grandson will not be happy at all!!

Barb Cabot said...

I'm always checking in on you Jane in hopes to see a new entry. Today your words were like sunlight on my soul. I know you say you will never write that book but I will not give up hoping. You are a true writer! Reading your words always touch me. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! Think of you often!

Jane said...

Thanks, Barb. It's nice to have an audience! But--no book, I'm afraid.

Gail Hecko said...

Jane, you paint pictures with your words, and your blog is a beautiful insightful memoir of your time in Tuscany. You've found the words to express the feelings of so many of us about our time there, our observations, and what we miss.

I, too, love to see the physical affection among the men, and enjoy the bemused expression on John's face every time he is kissed on both cheeks by our Italian male friends. Priceless.


Jane said...

Gail, grazie mille. There are so many good memories--they just keep popping up, don't they?