Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Here are some pics from our most recent outing. We took the train about an hour to the town of Monterosso, one of the five villages known as Cinqueterre. I love the ocean or as Zita calls it, the seaside. The meeting of two such different elements land, and water creates a wonderful energy and a sense of the unexpected. The last time we were at Monterosso, a week ago, the waters were still and placid. This time the ocean was more alive and the waves more powerful. I swam out to a barrier of rocks and there were some people there. The Italians really know how to swim in the ocean and it truly is an art. I grew up swimming mostly in lakes and swimming pools. Northern California coastal waters are notoriously cold, so I had little experience of sea bathing and am always a little nervous in the ocean when the waves ride high and there are rocks. I noticed that the Italian couple next to me would wait for the high waves to pull out and then when they could see clearly they would jump off the rock with the next wave and then immediately swim a rapid stroke so as to not be pulled back and thrown against a rock as the wave pulled back. Thus clear of the rocks they would swim at a more leisurely pace. Monterosso is a beautiful town and very placid. The free beach is just outside the town and although the town obviously services many tourists the shopkeepers were friendly and the prices affordable. The girls spent the day swimming and collecting bits of sea glass on the shore. BEn and I took turns swimming out to the rocks and then back to shore. What to eat? The sardines are really wonderful there. Oh and lemons too. Lots and lots of lemons.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Market Day. . . 

Wednesday I wake up really early and catch the 7 o'clock bus down the mountain to do my shopping.  How does one feed a family of six with no car and hauling one's groceries?  The answer is my fabulous wheely cart I bought myself and also the generosity of neighbors.  In the above photo is salad and squash and apricots and onions all courtesy of our neighbor's gardens.  The cheese is from the bottega right here in Gravagna.  
Anyway, today I had, added to my normal shopping agenda, going to confession.   I woke up early and went over all my sins with the dictionary, always helpful preparation.   Ben had told me that there was a bell you could ring at the Capuchin monastery right outside of Pontremoli and a friar would come down and here your confession.   The monastery is up at the top of a hill and a road winds up to it.  With my wheely bag jostling behind me I ascended the hill and rang the bell.    

I expected an old friar to answer.  Instead an middle aged woman came on the telecom, all efficiency and politeness, like a hotel clerk and told me to go wait in the church, a friar would be there shortly.  I walked into the church and no sooner had I looked around than a friendly old Franciscan came in and, as if we were old friends meeting after many years, greeted me and had me sit in the pew with him for confession.  

His words were simple.  He treated me like I was a small child and he interrupted my confession several times to ask questions about me.  It was like being with Christ.  Afterward  he showed me with great pride the display case they have with Padre Pio's habit,  hair, and tear stained patten in it.  We parted ways and I  walked back down the hill feeling lighter in spirit.  

There is a sort of arched retaining wall that runs alongside the road to the monastery and someone at some point planted roses in the arches.  Now an invasive Asian plant crowds them out.  Still the roses bloom.   It occurred to me that in some respects the friars there are like those roses blooming happily amongst the weeds of post modern Europe.  

As if to fulfill my metaphor several hours later outside of the discount store I saw my friar and another happily walking along the road with some friends. . . . 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hike to La Cisa

Oh here is a random picture of the walk I take to the botega in Gravagna.  The house to the left is the house my father was born in.  It is sadly no longer habitable.  The house to the right belongs to my neighbor Carla.  It was her mother in law's house but there was a fire and they moved out.  Carla still uses the courtyard for her wood and her cats live in the burned up house. Just out of the picture to the right is a huge fig tree and a little stall that Carla keeps a sheep in that she won in a lottery.

 Today was a pretty much perfect day.  The baby slept in until I had had my coffee  which always makes for a great beginning.  Then my neighbor Carla, who is the most amazing cook,  invited me over to watch her make her "sugo"  which was a ragu that she makes with boar.  After she made the sugo she just gave it to me because her husband is a notoriously picky eater and won't eat it.  (How anybody could be married to that woman and turn their nose up at such fare is beyond me).   Since dinner was taken care of and it was a beautiful breezy day I decided to pack the girls up and go for a hike up to the Passo della Cisa.  The ascent up the mountain went well.  There was a strong wind blowing down the mountain and the smell of pine trees mingling with the freshly made hay in the fields was invigorating.   We even passed a barn with a cow sitting in the stall all by herself.

The chapel up at La Cissa is one of my favorite little spots.  It is very gothic and also everything is scaled down in miniature.   It almost feels like a dollhouse.  I was very proud of the girls for walking the whole way up and down the mountain as it is no small walk.  We started out at noon and didn't get back home until close to six and they are now all sleeping peacefully.  More to come.  . .


Sunday, July 1, 2012


I know, I know .  Promises, empty promises.  I have been too buy living the "vita della campagna" I suppose.

Well back to  Gravagna.  My little village lies up in a cluster of Apenine mountains near a historic mountain pass.  The springs up here feed the Fiume Magra  (the Thin River ) that runs down into the Val D'antenna to Pontremoli.  To the southeast lies the heart of Tuscany with its villas and farms, vineyards and sunflowers.  Due south is the Mediterranean sea.  To the north, literally just over the mountain is Emiglia Romania and you are out of Tuscany.  We are literally sitting at the northernmost tip of Tuscany's tiny finger,
   Coming from Pontremoli means a long twisting ride up the valley to the village of Molinello at which point you go off the small road onto a tiny one.  Two little Italian cars barely fit abreast and often there is an intricate tango between two drivers who chance to meet going in opposite directions.  The road curves back on itselve following the mountain all the way up until around the bend you go and you are in Gravagna.

Here you will find few of the historic Tuscan  plants.  There are few olive trees and grape vines and sunflowers.  Instead there is an abundance of chestnut and hazelnut trees.  The culture is a mountain one.  Cheese, sheep, goats, mushrooms, and chestnuts are the stuff of life.  If you pass Gravagna and make it all the way to the mountain pass (Passo della Cisa)  you will even find alpine architecture reminiscent of Switzerland.

There are about 25-30 people who live in the village year round.   In the summer the number swells to maybe 75 or so.  Most of the people are old and retired on pensione.  This does not mean they do not work, however.  By eight in the morning almost everyone is running about caring for an animal or out in their garden,  sweeping their terazzo or watering their flower pots.  Which brings me to the photo.  These are my cousin Louisa's  flowers.  Louisa never married or had children but lived her life caring for her parents as they aged.  She is now getting close to seventy herself but she cares so lovingly for a wide variety of growing things.   Her pot garden speaks of her patience and loving hand.

I think one of the things that is so important about gardening in pots this way is that the flowers become something that is touchable and within reach.  Much more intimate and inviting that a flower bed floating off far away in an ocean of lawn.
Hopefully less of an interlude next time.  . . . Also any Gravagnot who read this please correct any errors in Geography and names if you notice them-  :)