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It is a relief when, in the afternoon, I realise no work will get done today anyway, so I can just as well accept it and relax. Tea, music, and the sixth volume of Fune keep me company as I resign into waiting mode. The next few days I will have to keep myself in check, knowing nothing productive will get don,e but having to avoid anxiety-fuelled time-wasting. Looking forward to running tonight, dinner, a movie, some wine, some normality and warmth. Slowly I'm starting to pile up things in the corner, for the two-month trip.
We are descending, close to the clouds, I can never resist their charm. If I could create my own fantasy world, that's what it would look like. Structures moulding and free-floating in space, slowly changing, cosy, warm rooms opening onto tall corridors, terraces suspended over the land and sea, fields and rivers visible underneath, and great halls with no roof nor floor, vaguely bounded by cloud-like structures, with high pillars, arches that don't support anything but their own weight, defying gravity, usefulness, common sense, rosy and white and blue, for people to float in, through, about, like angels.
I arrive at the wings of a strom, it's raining over the Alps and as we land I see the forked lightnings against the dark blue cloud. Milan looks clean for once, glistening; people around me in the bus immediately start complaining about the weather, but I look at the pumps descending from the sky as we drive through the countryside and wait to be out, breathe in the freshness mixed with the smell of flowers, I can see the trees are blooming, and in Italy the soil is already warm, nothing like the smell of rain on warm soil.
He sees me take out the laptop and asks – 'is this the internet? Because I would like to contact a mathematician, you see, and talk about closed numerical systems. Ask him for ten numbers. Because, you see, with an open numerical system – you can't win, but within a closed one, you can. And you win yourself a house. Smart one, they will say of you. I know this works, I just don't know anyone to talk to about it.' He sits back in his big jacket, grey bearded and gap-toothed, closes his eyes, maybe dreaming of his own house.
The new vine shoots are an intense, vivid green, and they seem to glisten with the trapped water. They lok delicious actually, you just want to bite them off and feel them crunch in your teeth. Instead I move patiently, one vine after the other, trying to figure out the living entanglements of shoots, leaves and future grapes, trying to figure out a time-space strategy. You have to caress them, I am told, work with the tips of your fingers, be delicate and consider well your choices. My hands smell sweetly of the vine juice, flowers all around me.
My throat feels weird today, and I think it maybe because of the sulphur. The big new vineyard we worked in this afternoon was full of it – a fine, green dust covering the leaves and lifting when stirred, getting into my eyes, my mouth and my lungs. And this is the organic solution, the one that's better for all living organisms in the long run – it's just that going through the vineyard you have to put up with some high concentrations of it at times. There is no other way of safeguarding the grapes without hard-core chemicals so far.
She grew angrier and sadder by the minute, the frustration growing. The three guys were too far in to notice that their verbal games escaped her, that she was getting more and more alienated, more and more alone, they kept moving further and further away, turning back only to use her as a prop in their in-jokes and teases. I was able to follow them, but unable to participate – by now I was safe from frustration, but unable to turn them back in their tracks and involve her too, and how do you do it anyway, scarce common ground.
Can self-focused mean a different thing to self-centred? Can someone see themselves as the ultimate goal and still be open to others? So he claims, but I am riddled with doubt. Yes, self-growth, yes to becoming better people. But to what end? Live as happy a life as fully as possible. Seems a perfectly reasonable thing to say. But for me, so used to putting other people first, it is so alien, this tactic, I that arrive at myself through others, he that always departs from within. This self-sufficiency makes me scared, is he still human?
The place is more than strange, a makeshift 'saloon' but without a bar, the dance floor an ugly brown, a painted dusty High Street as a backdrop to the stage. And so few people too, maybe fifty arrive, plus the dancing entourage. The sky is dark and cloudy, wind bending the trees, but we are sheltered. When they start playing and I start dancing, under this stormy summer sky... It's like a childhood dream, the shabbiness, the simplicity, it reminds me of the tiny, cheap sea-side houses of my Baltic holidays, bunk-beds and mosquitoes, improvised moments of happiness.
There it is, the latticework of hills on the horison. Book in my hand, legs stretched out in front of me, I hear music from the front, Francesco is teasing information out of Squino, amusing to hear how he manoeuvres him into tight corners ('come – si picchiava? Tra la sinistra si picchiava? Ma, al epoca...), amusing to see how he reacts with self-defiance and puzzlement. A blue plastic bag on the window shelf, the sun is setting, the car smells of plastic and dust, the windows are dirty. This all will be gone in a moment. Can't keep this.
When we enter the courtyard there are children running throwing cut grass at one another, a few girls of five or six, tanned and long-legged, laughing; a two-year-old boy in colorful pantaloons tries to follow their game, stumbling. Seven families living together in this community; I take more to the children than to the adults, they show me the ducklings and soon I'm on a couch in one of the houses and a cheeky girl is correcting my Italian pronunciation as I read a fairytale to a few patient, concentrated faces; they know the story by heart.
My god, whatever happened to burn her out like this? Such a beautiful girl/woman, petite, waist-long black hair with a few silver strands, small features and beautiful, sad, patient eyes - but they seem empty, like there is no-one there, like she has retired somewhere and is living this life remotely, from a distance, this toddler that shouts until he gets her breast, this young boy that tells her – you're a cretin, this husband that looks at her with tenderness. At times I manage to make her laugh, and for an instant she's here. But she is sleepwalking.
After the first hour, I went to the bathroom for three minutes. I was still joking then, rather shocked with the number of pallets we have already managed to empty. After the second hour, I made a dash for it while the stocked bottles were moving and got me and Julia a piece of chocolate from the tasting room. After the third hour my movements have taken on a fluidity of a machine, I was stuck in the bottling rhythm. After the fourth hour I started doing mental arithmetics to keep sane. By then we were at over 4000 bottles.
It's not easy when you're an island in a sea of hostility. He was so pleased to see me, finally someone to talk to that does not judge, does not criticize, that supports and hopes for the best. Our lunches, and especially dinners went on for hours, sitting outside the house, moving from one bottle of wine to another, watching bats, he complaining, planning, day-dreaming, the night panorama of Barolo stretched before us, so relaxing. He really wished I could stay, keep him sane – but that's not my job, I can only keep in touch and wish him strength.
Well, I did not get killed, which was in itself a miracle. I really wanted to be alone that day, so getting a bike and spending an afternoon cycling the streets of Milan was just what I needed (struggling with a rusty bike lock, on the other hand, was not). It's a completely different perspective, different way of seeing the city, not as profound as walking, but immediately gives you an impression of it. People playing basketball in the castle gardens, smartly dressed families in the evening, a procession of vegetarians with a police cordon, and all the bloody tourists.
I've never seen that dance before, and I was swept away. South Italian, I was told, the music itself was enough to make one come on the spot, so charged, so sensual, the tamburin, the rhythm relentless, quicker than the pulse. The couples danced with castanieti in their raised arms, circling one another, closer closer oh so close, and than apart again, and than incoming, the woman bends back, he bends over her, finally their legs cross and they touch, still circling like moths around a candle, the onlookers are about to explode, jaws clenched, buttocks tight, hard to breathe.
The lunch started lazily around one, a long table was laid outside under the open roof, we were listening to kitsch Italian music, such a good crowd, all the people I really like, we joked and told stories and complained and ate grilled meat, yoghurt soup, torte salate, and outrageous strawberry cake. Then we improvised a volley court in between the farm machinery and, in constant mortal danger, played until the sun had nearly set, and the guys were giggling like maniacs from the smoke. The air smelled of acacias, we were sweaty and dirty, and happy like little kids.
From his house up the hill, the goats follow me with their eyes as us run, and then break into a trot themselves. Three older guys guys watch a small dog is barking at a cat perched on the wall, stupid humans. Through the fields, and the green valley on my left is so beautiful, looking at it I run like on water, the air so sweet with the smell of acacia flowers I could spread it on butter like honey, valley white and green, everything in bloom, poppies spilled in the field, the red sun is setting.
Still hot, the road is dusty, I take off my shirt, hell with it, it's too hot. As we descend the landscape starts to take on this amazing evening look where everything is filled with light, each blade of grass and each poppy delineated and self-contained, blinding colours, like stained glass, they radiate light. The climb back is long but oh once up there, Montale on the right, backdrop of the green hills, the air smells of fresh hay, they've just cut it today, it breathes its soul out in the evening air, fills my throat like green cordial.
The semi-living tissue, grown from cells sampled from a certain frog, grows a mini-steak no bigger than a coin and is eaten by humans, the frog's external flesh, flesh that cannot feel pain, is eaten while the same frog watches from an aquarium. The semi-living tissue grows a victimless leather jacket, but than outgrows its habitat and has to be killed – can you kill a semi-living? (think yeast, viruses, ecosystems, what is living, what is killing?) Victimless? Bone calf serum is used to feed it, the victim is but twice removed. A utopia or a nightmare?
From the plane I could see all that forest, and I had that sinking feeling of utmost abandonment, and my stomach tightened at the thought of endless travelling of forested islands, cold deep water in the fjords, aurora borealis. In the end though it was not so exotic, felt homely, known, safe, organised, clean, polite, boring. Nice people, nice food, nice cities, but none of that heart-churning falling-in-love head-over-heels tumbling of excitement, fear, learning. I could easily spend a few years here, I thought, enjoying myself because I am myself, not because it was Sweden.
Stockholm, at least, was alive. With friends – the Colombian pixie and the dog-boy, we walked the streets at the same pace, played like kids, always narrating with lightness, honesty, in the rhythm of our wanderings and wondering. The later it got the more magical the city became, and some views swept me away, the houses overlooking the yachts overlooking the bay, the leafy islands, subtle bridges, monumental buildings – and the grit of it too, the life, the ugly modernism, the sheer cliffs, the cranes and industry, and somehow it all worked in this enormous space, under this vast sky.
Flesh too soft, sweaty, young but not vigorous. Seems thinner than he really is, manages to make himself less significant somehow, only at times, when he throws an apple from the window for example, you can say – a man. So nervous, stress shows on the skin, when he pushed away the breakfast plate he was yellow-pale, manages to make himself seem such a child, but is not, at other times he is as real and immovable as a mountain. There is real warmth in him, but all is withdrawn, muted, can he do strong emotions at all, joyous abandonment?
When I look at her I realise the lightness of our being, as humans; both the power and the risk of dis-association. She used a nice metaphor for those moments of realisation of one's utter independence: it's like in this computer game where you can change the perspective from birds-eye to windscreen, and you realise it's you who is in the drivers seat, you're in control. And that really rang true with me. This happy-go-lucky 'ethical slut', backpacking and couch-(bed)-surfing her way through life, she makes my chest tighten in excitement of liberty, breathe in.
It was the fire that made that party, really; mid-week, all tired from crazy vineyard working hours (start at six now, it gets too hot in the day), we were all sleepwalking a bit, and the fire gave us the right kind of excuse to pause and talk only when really willing, I remember Giovanni's face utterly hypnotised at a certain point, it was already dark, the night was so warm. I felt self-contained and relaxed as Sophia massaged my shoulders, limoncello was doing its rounds, and I listened without talking, enjoying being in the midst of things.
We were talking with Sophia of the fear of falling back into the same patterns.. For both of us the South has been such a lesson, we both fear having it erased by the people waiting for us who will want all to be 'just like before'. I feel this life echoing in my Northern life already, I just hope I keep it, this excitement, sleeping little and living a lot, meeting and doing things with other people, embracing and not shrinking back, giving a lot and taking even more, and the world's treasure chest seems to be bottomless lately.
Just when I thought this was it, I had it all under control, I am completely in the dark again, and can't make sense of all this at all. The work in the vineyard – the daily practice of vine disciplining, illness prevention, vine nutrition, grape and plant care. One eye on the sky, interpreting the behaviours of the plants depending on the weather conditions. What are they trying to achieve? Quality grapes – quality constituted through myriad minuscule acts of care, but the care is partial, the knowledge is partial, one does not keep up with the work, balanced vine dream?
How a nightmare can change everything, make you see more clearly. After a long wine-tasting evening, and painful conversations with a recent convert to singledom, and than a bitter and stubborn mid-life-crisis sufferer, I laid down my jewelled head, and couldn't sleep. I remember hearing the four o'clock bells between one horrid, gut-dragging hallucination and another, and thinking - I will never know peace again. The whole day, stomach knotted, heart contracted, I've been weeping inside, my joy is gone, all the deep-buried shit came to the surface, my nightmare and my reality have become one.
He does not look well at all, face all puffy, bags under his eyes, one eye is half-closed, he looks poisoned, he looks unhealthy. When we talk he seems only half-awake, I was so looking forward to meeting him and I feel cheated, where is the person I was looking forward to meat, how can I reach him? We only talk superficially, about nothing really, there is no engagement, and it makes me sad and angry, not fair. Fortunately the day after he's more present, we visit a friendly winemaker together, and I'm happy to see him alive.
It's funny being a daughter in this Italian context in which I move with such self-confidence, I'm definitely not used to taking orders here, or in fact even following the whims of another. I can see my attitude towards my dad is different, I take control of everything, to the point of not even informing him of my decisions. Still, I feel like by now we should be interacting on a different level, the level I am used to interacting with other people by now, where shared interest in the world is the basis for interest in one another.
I guess we see the world very differently. I could see he was in his element when discussing thermal exchange with Angiolino, or when admiring the construction of his roof, or when discussing the difficulties of erecting a house in brick. Not the one for small talk, not the one to take interest in another openly. I know so little about him really, completely forgot his father was a brick-layer for one, or that they had only under a hectare of land, worked with the neighbour's horse. How does he see my boundless, wild interest in all things living?
The Tip Jar