Tea, Tuscany & a Birthday

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Early morning there is a softness to the sky that will later give way to storm or fluffy cloud or perhaps that intense azure ring from edge to edge that is so famous here. I sit with a cup of tea (most un-Italian) and survey the vista in front of me. Somewhere in my soul, I smile because I am home.

My affinity with Italy started with my mother, Fiorentina born, a maternal thread that spooled out to my childhood and beyond. It stretched across Italy from Rome to Milan on many journeys, but in recent years, my life settled for a short span of time in this region. I have learned so much here: the annual cycle of the contadini, the growling of the tractors as they plant and harvest crops, the cacciatore, with their khaki uniforms and loud pops of the shotguns as they fell the pheasant and wild boar, the agriturismo, with their fields that change colour from green spring to beige blanched summer broken by yellow sunflowers and violent red tomatoes, on to the purple of autumn spotted with pumpkins, and sometimes – if we are lucky – the white coating of a short snowfall in winter that decorates every ancient roof with a magical dusting.

I have learned it is hard to find work here, and even harder to make that work pay, so that one can live, eat and survive. If you are not Toscana, you can never be truly one of them, and yet you will be accepted into the community provided you have a economic means to do for others, either by spending or barter or by being a good inquilino. I admire the Tuscan people, they have had few handouts, survived wars and bombing still they plough on, paying their way and developing ‘un modo da vivere’ that is envied the world over.

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This land, and all the people I met, became my fourth child. I helped to plant olive and fruit trees here, my legacy after my death. I helped to restore vegetable plots, I put in a wood burning stove and learned to use a chain saw so that I could slice the dense wood required into manageable chunks to ease the winter cold with a piping hot stufa. I endured the zanzare – the ever present mosquitoes, the papatachi, the voracious midges, and I watched with fascination as a myriad of lizards moved rapidly, seamlessly from rock to rock, shedding their tails when predators lurked, so that one did not notice their disappearance into the crevices, whilst the ejected limb wriggled in the dust.

I walked dogs here, down dry river beds and across the beaches at Cecina. I have laughed and shared a love of Italy and all things Tuscan with new friends under a silk black sky with diamonds, whilst fire flies blinked across the fields.

I have loved watching the birds of prey who settle on the telephone poles and then swoop with unerring accuracy to pick out the field mice. With fascination, I acknowledged small black scorpions standing their ground on the terra cotta tiles, unafraid of a large human foot approaching. I have seen the deer, turn and bound away in the pine woods, chased by dogs that had no chance of keeping pace and occasionally the ‘irskine’ or ‘porcospino’ that rattled away hurriedly to hide – illegal to hunt, yet they are prized for their meat. They are a remnant of Ancient Rome and its African connections. I have seen the many migrants, their ebony faces staring into mine, hawking any trinkets they could find to make their way north to Belgium or Germany.

I remember with pity the many caged dogs that reside in the woods, who sit, barking and howling, waiting for a chance to be released into the hunt by their hunter masters. The chickens in coops, the swallows that circle, the rise and fold of the hills making their nest in the barns, the daily chatter of friends in the piazza, the richness of the local wine, oil and food.

I am sixty years old and I am grateful to have had my birthday here, grateful for the friends who travelled an hour from Montecatini Val di Cecina to share it with me.

And last but certainly not least, the warmth and friendship of Wide Open Writing, an adventure in authorship never to be forgotten and hopefully to continue and follow for years to come.

Grateful for having experienced and shared all of this.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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