09 February 2011, Podere Conti, Lunigiana, Italy
Magic sparks of humanity on every stoop. The flamenco on a third-floor terrace or a waltz in the olive grove are the colors of laundry in daily life. It is everywhere. Every day. Daily life, that is. And the faces living it. And the measures they take to secure it and pass it along, the integrity of Lunigiana protected by legacy. I fear that if I do not note on paper every moment I am dizzy with contentment, their potency could eventually fade into the neutrality that is the norm. Is it possible? Can I ever journey the entire world until the very last ember of passion pops off, leaving me with only a broken soap dish and an espresso dispenser to remember them by? Does a gypsy ever land face to face with apathy?
Today marks a month’s stay thus far, and it has passed in a flash, April’s date of expiry creeping toward me like the shadow of the tax man. A self-imposed departure competing with an open-ended invitation to stay, stay, stay… my mind is playing with pin-pricked emotions. Come 10 April, I simply will not have seen enough, felt enough, and absorbed enough, a shameful proposition to just let it all fall flat, filed into an album of “nice travel memories.” So now I face my own will to plan and sort, challenging it to recall Lama Chodrak’s instruction to “be in this moment.”
It is the Italian village people who are most moving me at present. One can never over-act the role of an Italian, because many of them are stereotypes by their own nature, the caricature of an Italian easily portrayed by over-the-top dramatists and comedians alike. They basically live in the moment completely, unless, of course, they are worried about the future. Italians are passionate, suspicious, and obstinate people who are most often more happy to see you than your own Labrador could possibly rehearse, a characteristic well known worldwide of the Italians. But take heed, for other stereotypes persist in the reality of this beautifully complex people, for that of the Italian with the agenda is also quite universal, a culture of peasantry’s struggle for survival ever-present in the faces and tactics of the townspeople. Yes, the beautiful contrasts are most intriguing, between the simplicity of a slow village lifestyle formed on the traditions developed only within a few kilometers’ radius to the global recognition of products born simply of what Earth offered in the region. What is gourmet in parts of the world grows in another man’s backyard. Perhaps he even considers them as weeds, shaking his fist at dawn’s first dewy glimpse of a bumper crop he has no use for.
On Sunday, an English friend, Laura, drove me to Bergamo for a lunch with her sisters with our two dogs, who became fast friends, strapped in the rear seat of her English right-hand-drive VW Polo, in respect of Italian law. After a long hilly ride along a winding Autostada, in and out of tunnels, falling behind trains, and blazing past mind-jarring medieval village after crumbling stone mansion, we were suddenly dropped onto the surface of industrial flatland, the Detroit of Italy that is outer Milan. A layer of smog tickled at the heels of the car in front of us, gaseous vapors discreetly shimmying upward from the pavement. From an ancient community of sustainability to another of global mass production it was jarring indeed, and obviously added to Laura’s irritability with the bossy English GPS woman’s voice scolding us.
“At the roundabout, take the third exit. At the roundabout, take the third exit. At the roundabout…”
An exasperated Laura rounded the rosie a little too quickly and accidentally terrorized a jaywalking family dressed for Sunday lunch. Of course, jaywalking is an American concept, so I suppose the only real offense the family had committed is not punishable, other than the obvious risk to their lives. In Italy, apparently, it is perfectly acceptable to grab your entire extended family and run across the road, in spite of the oncoming car spinning with centrifugal force out of a roundabout only 15 meters away. For it was with such authority that the father stood in front of our car, glared in at an apologetic Laura to my right, and slung the most insulting comment he could muster while shaking a fist:
It is these quirky little character moments that have me smiling in awe and writing feverishly in my little leather journal on trips into town or while waiting for boys in judo class, wanting indelible documents to make these moments last forever for me. I want to hold them all, every chip from the roughest of diamonds, somewhere that I can always find them, in the event that I forget them on darker days. And there will be those dark ones, because our challenge is to evolve, and evolution is a painful process full of twisted perception, eyes used to seeing through one type of lens when the scenery changes without warning. It is these journals that will be my medicine on those days of question. Through my own words I will once again see the village so untainted, a nineteen-year-old shepherd boy who waved me over to join him with his flock with my camera, but has no computer or email for me to send him the photos. His invitation was not for himself. It was simply a person doing his dharma. And oh, the image of the ankles of an elderly village woman… suffocating inside a nylon sheath while being met with sensible, very forgettable shoes. The women who own such ankles, hose, and shoes are members of a secret society that can full-body scan without moving an eye muscle, suspicious and unthrilled about who and what could be a threat to the Village’s status quo. And they are everywhere. And they are adorable. And they are Italy.
To notice and to question, to laugh and to be inspired… all of these will keep me young inside. Preserving moments, documenting fragments in time, the ones too precious to risk slipping through, noting each place inside I have become attuned to and listening for its instructive resonance. Noticing means warding off jadedness, the inquisitive mind resourcing the patterns stored in younger cell memory from a time when intrigue was the giver of life. And it is by noticing that I am learning how many ways there are to live a life, examples dancing in slow motion across fields or on rooftops, in desert luxury or in mountainside yurts. When we notice, question, and embrace, we become the sum of all our own hand-picked parts, a whole person built of a collection of bits brought home from the whole of our Earth.