24 February 2011, Podere Conti, Lunigiana, Italy
Relentless discomfort shared my bed last night, for today interwoven with my intended carefree spirit is the sort of worry and anxiety I know too well from prolonged exposure to an ordinary life, the one wrought with seeking and chasing a state of being that truly does not and cannot exist.
A person can live all his years attaching meaning to a person, place, thing, or idea, and chase it forevermore, a self-proclaimed glittering diamond on the horizon that is forever out of reach, only to reveal itself as a mere mirage at the end of a wasted life. This morning’s fear is the same old intricate thread stitched through the fabric of my life, the sort that gnaws at me in spite of my efforts, the one that keeps coming back in one form or another, that lifelong karma I’ve brought with me to cast shadows upon an otherwise-idyllic postcard of a lifetime. For today I fear returning to an old familiar place where I will present the labor of my being for valuation, if indeed anyone sees value within the bestsellers and thrillers of the world, that is. And then there is my outer being, my image, one of which I have fought an endless battle to contour according to modern beauty cues, and failed time and again to satisfy. In short, at “home” I feel useless, out of place, and undiscovered, while on the road I am enraptured with possibility and passion, a sustainable place of constant joy, until the reality of the almighty dollar bares its fangs at me. Why is living in a state of trust constantly buckling under the burden of fear that has been fed to me by a tarnished silver-plated spoon with the promise of pure sterling one day? Why can’t I dive into unseen village wisdom, to simply sweep the stoop with gratitude for another day that history has not repeated itself?
How many times have I bundled up to trudge across the property for the sala di caldaia (furnace room) and added logs to the fire that sustains the entire agriturismo’s heat? How many times without realizing until just this morning’s trip, that with each log I place on the fire I am visiting with my beloved father? How he loved his fires, and how I could have loved them with him, been with him so many times per day, all these cold weeks I had been seeing only the chore in it all. How many other missed opportunities are victors over my preoccupied mind? And how can I focus on a life of Mindfulness if I can’t even recognize such opportunities in this guided lifetime?
Monday in the village of Filetto was such an opportunity. I had in my grasp a friend visiting, wine producer Teri Love of Gioia Wines, for only a few short days. A prestigious pinot noir award in San Francisco is what I believe to the only reason she isn’t beside me today, because a weekend in Florence and the local gnocchi with pesto and organic Chianti might well have ruined her. Together we explored tastes, and together we explored splendor. And on Monday we explored Filetto, an incredible village and its historical cavernous street, the backdrop for more wonder in an ever-expanding scope. We drove the Contimobile through the arched entrance to the ancient village, eyes widening with each cobblestone and every artery, until we parked at the Duomo, the center, the bull’s-eye of a village too small for even a local map.
Enter Mario, a local wine shop owner who breezed through like a pin sweeper, collecting the two standing in plain view at the piazza. He led us through hallways that doubled as walking streets, stone wall fortresses insulating a centuries-old community, colors of curtain and clothesline splashed across the otherwise hue-less textured monochrome. By what seemed a giant fireplace we found ourselves encircled, shaft of light ricocheting against the irregular-shaped chimney walls above and pouring into to the very center of the fortress floor to reveal a table for six set with vintage handmade linens and table bits, all of it for sale. This ancient fire pit was now Filetto’s antique store, tucked gently away within the village’s musculature. The streets might have been hollowed out by natural causes, or smoothed along as a formed-rock slide on a slow-moving river. Every twist, every turn was hollowed and rounded within its miniature infrastructure. There have never been cars in Filetto; only ambient and human energy have shaped these passages for millennia. Mario stopped at a corner whose street sign read brightly in the cotton-cloud daylight: Borgo degli Ebrei. The Italian smiled and explained enthusiastically: “Ebrei…Ebrei… Cattolici e… Ebrei…” He waved his hand to either side of the narrow street, indicating that each side represented one particular thing exclusive of the other, and he continued stammering through an explanation until the light popped in my head. The Hebrew Hamlet was on one side of this tiny medieval street, a piece of Judeo-Catholic history petrified into foreverness, solidarity frozen in time, even in ancient Italy. I smiled and told Mario that Teri and I both are Jewish. He said: “I know.”
He must have also known that Teri would have loved nothing more than to be let into his otherwise-closed-for-the-season wine shop, and for me to have continued random discoveries to unveil, for as Teri felt bottles and read labels, I was whisked away once again, Italian-style, by a seven-year-old Lorenzo, Mario’s son. Giving the identical walking tour to his fathers’, Lorenzo repeated each aspect, stopping and repeating learned history, with pride and adoration of his father. No, the sever-year-old did not leave a single note out of the hymn-like tour, including the Boro delgi Ebrei, and thus Teri and I left with a loaded camera, a bottle of Syrah, chestnut flour biscuits, and Mario’s gift of chestnut cream sweet spread, which I was dying to taste. If it tastes at all as sweet as the son’s devotion to his father, I will only be able to take a small bit, for squinting into the setting sunlight I could make out Lorenzo’s back trailing behind his father, eager to help, eager to learn, and eager to shine… the sweetest delegate of the slow life, the one who lives happily placing logs on the fire in honor of father and family, to heat and to nurture, and to be a part in the sum of everything.