Every day in Tuscany
Her ability to observe and describe is unmatched amongst current authors, I think. The way she crafts her sentences, surprising us with the unpredictability of passage. She is a Wordsmith and obviously honours and delights in the images she conjures.
The art, the food, the lifestyle, the landscape, the produce, the community, the history, the language, the trendy Italian flavours of Italian life, are all stamped onto her pages like a three-dimensional collage. It is the now-popular craft-art of scrapbooking minus the glue and scissors.
Her quest for beauty I share. While she succeeds and excels, I fail. The richness of the Italian culture lies to extreme of the sparse Australian life that is mine. I search but cannot find any stone-built monasteries from the 15th Century. There is a notable lack of Renaissance art around me. Deciduous trees dripping harvests of nuts and fruit do not fare well in the Aussie bush. Aussie slang spoken between thin closed unmoving lips is spare with words and emotion, by comparison to the dramatic, curvaceous, embellished opera of the mere Italian “hello”.
Reading Frances Mayes books make me feel like a starving person reading a cook book. Yet to not seem ungrateful for my lot in life; I am far from starving and can read. I am keenly aware of my lucky rich Western educated life in a free land.
Two years ago I was in Italy and did not like what I saw. Fully expecting to love it, I did not. My stay was brief and fleeting. As a passing tourist I saw multitudes of art – some flaking some not. I was often dwarfed inside cathedrals, as I had hoped. I passed by the long queue of people waiting to go inside The Dome in Florence. I saw David – whose hands are too big Michelangelo! I walked around Rome. I know why people there drive mopeds – it is because there is no physical space left to park another car. My heart sank when seeing more and more graffiti, another grey rumpled form of a homeless person lying in the town park, the rubbish strewn everywhere. The Italians appeared to have stepped straight from a catwalk in Milan, into their shiny sports car, then out into a street full of cigarette butts. They live in an ashtray. It was Summer and each day was smog-filled; not one clear day despite the cloudless skies.
Sure I loved Venice. And Burano – is it even real or did I dream it? Who would not love the Isle of Capri? And Sorrento? Assisi? Florence – beautiful Firenze? I have not one bad photo from this trip. The camera lies obviously. Italy was overcrowded everywhere and lost to the hordes of passing onlookers. Queuing for bliss became the appropriate title for my unedited travel diary. Please note that my diary is a record only and not any attempt at creative writing.
Frances Mayes Italy and my Italy are at odds. We cannot compare the experience at all because hers is deep and all-encompassing, while mine was shallow and fleeting. She lives there, I visited. I envy her, that is certain.
She talks about falling in love with a place, or a thing, or a pursuit, such as Art. I understand this and share this idea completely. Art, music, and place have the power to speak to our soul and fill us with…..Love.
I fell in love in France; not Italy. It happened in St. Paul de Vence. This small medieval hill town near Nice is now a thriving artists community and a tourist magnet. We wandered in light rain along cobblestone walkways, too narrow to be streets, looking at art. Who wouldn’t fall for this place? By the time I sat in the town square in Beaune, between Lyon and Paris, I was cocooned and floating in a crystal bubble of LOVE. I floated and smiled like an idiot. I felt at home for the first time in my life. I had found my spiritual home. But not because of the food, language, culture, history or art. Nor because my heart had longed to go to France. Something deeper. Perhaps genetically transferred ancestral cell-memory? Life destiny calling me? Wish fulfilment? Perhaps just my vivid imagination.
Back home in Australia, Frances Mayes reminds me of my heart-ache; of my parallel-life in France. The view from my window across the roof tops towards the church spire in the town somehow reminds me of Nice. There really is no similarity.
Yet my sensible self reminds me of the crowds, the traffic, and the reality-check of what daily life in Europe in the 21st Century is in actuality. Frances, please cast your observant eye towards downtown Rome, or Naples. Can you edit out the grime?
Pursuing a life of “beauty” in the harsh Australian environment and lifestyle is a challenge. But I must try harder. This is my real home and I must face the fact that life in France, for me, is not for this lifetime. My task is to focus, and bring into my days, the art, language, music, literature, good food, and beauty that I crave and miss.
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