On Art and Culture January 22, 2011

Friday, 21 January 2011, Podere Conti, Lunigiana/Pontremoli, Italy

Time has a way of smudging your memory, just enough to acclimate you to things quickly.  The once-eccentricities-but-newly-the-norm details fade in color slightly.  Perhaps this is part and parcel of moving more deeply into the mantle of a given set of coordinates.  In any case, going into any and all of the villages, for any reason at all, never leaves you colorblind.

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I stood on the veranda, as usual, this morning with a proper cup of coffee, taking inventory of the clouds and increasing winds.  The past few days have been delightful at the farm, dynamic days that start out with wall-sanding or olive net collecting, and freeforming into sampling goods from the kitchen or driving an hour to a musical instrument shop to retrieve a drum for the coming week’s visit by Tibetan monks.  Each morning is an eco-tourism farm’s potluck, and I always look forward to the day’s agenda.

“Put your trousers on, Lauren.  We’re going to market!”

Cornelia was excited.  Market day is when all the vendors bring their goods to the street for several hours, at reduced prices, and renders the town of Pontremoli very lively.  Our to-do list is growing as the arrival date approaches, so there isn’t much time.  In fact, there is seldom extra time, with shops closing at the strike of 12:20 for national lunch, combined with four hungry boys arriving home from school shortly after.  Returning to any town after lunch rarely happens; the dynamic nature of this lifestyle renders plan-making obsolete.  Needless to say, my public-watching has been mostly on the fly so far.  But not for long!  At our first stop, Conrnelia ran into someone she’d needed to see about her car insurance, and was assured that L’Amica Americana is indeed, insured to drive.  So, as of tomorrow, I volunteer to be the pack mule and venture into the world of shopping without the crutch of Cornelia’s English to keep me from taking a bite out of this local Italian lifestyle.

We descended toward Pontremoli on the more scenic of the two routes, villages and stone fortresses standing like cutouts pasted throughout the hilly countryside. Clouds were lingering above a church rooted deeply onto the crest of a foothill, a pre-framed photograph waiting to be claimed.   Suddenly the road bent in half, and we were winding tightly through yet another village, tiny road twisting between walls and people “beep beep”ing to avoid an accident.  The scale of the road and most Italian cars against some of the village bends lined with stone walls is difficult to wrap my head around, but then again, so is driving through the trunk of a redwood tree.

It was a day for a lot of guys:  the vegetable guy, the cheese guy, the “biologico” guy (health food vendor,) and a few other ones, with a few minutes to peek around the market in the center. I love these excursions.  The baby sleeps while I write and Cornelia is unencumbered to attack her to-do list in the precious hours until four little weekenders come screaming in glee off the bus at home.  I meet people.  Language is secondary, for without so many precise words I rely on energy to transcend through language into spirit.  The vegetable man, piled high with cartons of fresh produce, stepped cautiously behind an elderly pair of nuns and placed the wares in their tiny car.  How both Sisters fit into this little pasta rocket is beyond me.  Fiats and the people who love them are so endearing, an integral thread woven into the Italian fabric, cars offering a character of their own.

You can never be in a hurry in Italy.  Everything takes forever, particularly when there is a new baby in the village.  People stop you with unadulterated joy, eager to coo at the well-wrapped bundle.  It doesn’t matter that Elio is not my son.  He is in my arms, and that makes me the Madonna.  Then he wakes up hungry, and an entire hamlet is on hand to appreciate the baby, screams and all, unaware of how critical getting him on the boob is.   This is where we found ourselves at around eleven o’clock.  Cornelia came dashing back to the car, a chorus of waves and “arrividerci”s in her wake, and scooped up the wailing one-month-old that had been transplanted from his seat into my arms.

“C’mon.  We’ll go to the bar for a feed.”

I love the idea of going to a bar to breastfeed.  For two reasons.  One, because in my country Jeff Foxworthy would have a comment for a person who brings a baby into a bar.  (The bars here serve coffee, snacks, and possibly wine or simple spirits, but they are well lit and never abused because it is a way of life and not a place to lose control.)  And two, because breastfeeding is a part of birthing, an honored practice in a country so reverent of family tradition.   Needless to say, a woman feeding her baby is a perfectly natural thing to do, the breast living free from puritanical stigma.

The pit stop caused us to postpone the cheese guy until tomorrow, because the Biologico was much more pressing.  At the shop, we found beautiful bags or organic cereali (grains) and very organic-looking produce, as well as teas and some other products requiring a little time to read about.  But the most organic finds in the store were Cornelia’s friends Michael and Marion, with whom conversation erupted organically, albeit too brief.  He is an iridologist from London and she is an ex-rock-musician.  Their paths, my path… a connection condensed into a capsule whose seal could be broken by baby discomfort at any second.  I will see them again next Friday for the community Buddhist ceremony and dinner at Podere Conti, an evening we are all living for.

Wind was encroaching on Pontremoli and the clock was ticking.  We raced through the square and took an eyeball overview of the wares on display for which we will return next week.  More pressing issues were upon us, like the impending grocery store closure, so we opted for that stop next.  In town, clotheslines on verandas danced in the wind like rows of primitive flags.  In spite of the approaching storm, the sun stood vigilant, forcing its way through opposing clouds and splashing color about in a smattering of combinations.  Fouler weather stood firm, however, white flurries blowing down from the rich hillsides above the town.

Ascending the hill to the farm was a race against an aggressive Mother Nature, olive nets blowing like tumbleweeds along the plateaus.  At home, the French doors to my apartment rumbled in the torrid wind, flapping like fragile bird wings.  The children exploded through the school bus doors and ran for cover indoors as the storm erupted, a predator taking decorative glass and ceramic casualties in its path.  Four children and a baby with two women under one roof was a lot to bear in a storm and the idea of cooking was simply quashed.  So was born an American evening at home, with frozen pizzas and coca-colas in front of a DVD of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Tomorrow I will be on my own to finish the shopping for the Buddhists, concerns about auto insurance a thing of the past.  I don’t know which I might find more challenging: facing the population without someone to speak for me, or navigating these tiny winding roads in a large SUV.  But I welcome all of it whole-heartedly, for an adventurous spirit finds color in the mundane tasks of everyday life.



My name is Lauren Berley and I am a Certified Professional Coach. I am also a working contemporary artist. Film maker. Photojournalist. Writer. Small-scale farmer/farm stand artisan. And your kindred partner on the Gifted & Creative journey. I help Gifted and Creative people unblock pathways to creating their most meaningful lives. And my artwork expresses the sensations and yearnings from deep within my little seed of Spirit.

Comment 1

  1. Susie B Jaffe says on January 24, 2011

    I am totally hooked on Lauren Berley’s blogs about Italy. She has such an insightful perspective on her adventure and I’m just so grateful to get to go along for the ride. Really special!

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