REPORT A PROBLEM
As we were walking the green corridors, Davide would stop and examine a vine leaf with a small looking glass, looking for pests. The difference between maldelesca and flavescenza is visible on the leafs, but the most obvious sign is the dryness of the branches, which, although green, break with a loud 'crack', and the touch of the leaves, which feel like paper in the hands. You can confuse oidio with powdered sulphur sitting on the grape, until you smell its characteristic mushroom odour, like wet forest soil. In search of oidio, Davide had me sniffling grapes like a dog.
When we reach the Passo di Cento Croci, it's evening already. Over a thousand metres above sea level there is finally a freshness to the air, and for a long time we sit on the side of the road, looking down into the beautiful valley, and beyond, at the hills which plunge into the sea on the other side, creating Cinque Terre. The meadows are in full flower, swaying in the constant breeze and smelling sweetly. Hardly any houses can be seen, the green hills fold away unspoiled, there is a distant sound of cow bells, peace comes over us.
It is the first organic valley in the world, the whole area devoted to organic agriculture – but in reality there is no agriculture in sight, only cows and a few vineyards covered with so much copper the leaves are a fluorescent green. The town we pass on the way down is rich, clean and stagnant, all houses renovated and nicely painted, all the shops expensive, no sign of organic produce or organic mentality anywhere. I ask a young man with dreadlocks for directions and we acquire a strange, black-clad, pickup-driving guardian angel, all happy to be of help.
There must be ten people or more sleeping in this tiny room, with the only window giving to a narrow and steep street of Riomaggiore. Canadians, Americans, Australians, Britons and Kiwis travelling the world in cotton t-shirts and sneakers, from one tourist location to another, making temporary friends, telling the same stories over and over again, insulated from actual life and complaining how they can't feel the culture, as if spending money and getting drunk all over the world has become some strange rite of passage. A far cry from the World Tour, or just more of the same?
Outside the station, in the baking sun, there are the homeless sleeping under the rickety trees, on yellow grass, this is our first view of Pisa. Already from the bus, the city looks bland; in spite of some beautiful architecture, it feels soulless. The area around the Duomo and the tower is highly unnatural for an Italian city, with a massive green lawn surrounding the brilliant white structures, a ring of market stalls providing plastic souvenirs and t-shirts an ugly backdrop. The whole town is colonised by tourists, streets taken over by chain stores, African vendors and cheapish restaurants.
'This is, I guess, the basic idea. That nature has a right to exist independently of us. Like this vine – Maria Zambrano speaks of the plants that dream. This is not the form it would have dreamed, I masacrete them every time I go into the vineyard, they dream my dream. Apart from special cases – this one, climbing the tree, can fulfill itself. Those scientific theories, that you have to pluck branches without fruit, or certain leaves, it's all just stories, the differences are miniscule, why not let them grow? It all helps the vine to be healthy, doesn't it?
The vegetation in the vineyard is really amazing, thousands of kinds of plants in every square foot, dense and flowering, and buzzing, shimmering with insect life! I've never seen a meadow have half as many butterfiles as there are in between his vines. We push the plants aside, and reach for a handful of rich, black, fragrant soil, smells like the forest floor, soft and delicious. There is not a spot of illness. 'Vines are accidental to this soil, it was here before us and will be here after us. I'm not really a viticulturist' – he says, surrounded by vines.
I'm shocked to learn their age, she'll be celebrating her 60th soon, he has 57. Between work and talk, the day at their house flies by. When we come back from the vineyards and the baking sun, she is sitting in a white chair, small and shapely, with her bi-coloured black-and-grey tiger hair, doing her homework – they've just taken up English. I sit down to repair my sandal, and we discuss politics, ethics, philosophy; it's all natural, and relaxed, a true pleasure of spending time together. I admire their intelligence, lucidity, vivacity, and profound joy of living.
After Italy, Dijon impresses me with its cleanliness. It's the market day, and I struggle to stop myself doing a massive food shopping: sweaty cheeses, fragrant fruit, crusty breads. Italy the capital of flavour my ass! The way people move is different too, less rigid, more relaxed and natural, fashionable, but in a wonderfully understated, individual and even eccentric way. They seem more at home in their own skins than Italians, and much less obsessive. There is more smiling, less scowling, and everyone is helpful in spite of my broken French. The overall impression of civility and personal culture dominates.
First I am bored stiff with graphs and stats. Then I am vaguely interested by history and tales. Later I am forcefully dragged through geology, labelling and a dose of humour. Some speak about money and perceptions, others about technology and human ingenuity. Few speak about wine, the actual stuff in the bottle, yes boys, this is at the root of all things. Producers are invisible, consumers are quantified and boxed, and product is poeticised beyond recognition. Abstraction on abstraction. I get my glass of Saint Verant in town to finally bite into the matter of the arguments, mineral, fresh.
I am rather tired by now. Physically, first of all – the continuous lack of sleep due to travelling and joyful encounters is starting to get to me. I'm mostly emotionally drained, though, tired of forever saying 'goodbye' and 'hope we'll meet again'. All the wonderful people I've met, who've taken me into their homes and into their lives, I wish I could do something in return, I wish I could stay and be part of it all. It's easy to say – just let it flow – but after a while you end up tired of being forever (just) the passing visitor.
After all this time, it's good to confirm we still connect – it's been a year and a half at least. We remain present in one another's thoughts, though, so the absence is never absolute. He's changed, become harder at core, more focused and decisive, no less fun. Catch up on people and places and events, see how we've grown. We're glad to see we've evolved, but not been transformed, the familiar features are there, more or less pronounced, on the way to a new equilibrium. The interpretation has to be positive, but it may be that we've not learnt anything.
Immobilised and vulnerable at a cafe table, I end up buying two lottery tickets off a toothless man and two parrots. Seconds after a small boy (I'm 13, honest!) is asking for change. I refuse, and we start talking. 'What did that man just sell you? Lottery tickets! Smart one, furbo, furbo. I'm not furbo, I can't figure out what to do to get money. Work? No way, all day for a panino!' He gets a coin from me in the end, and is too excited to look at how much it is, in case it changes in his hand.
Twice into the same river, eh? I wish I had a few more lives to live with each of them, wonderful people. Yesterday the aperitivo transformed into a dinner and late night drinks, so many people came, so many wanted to hang around, and just being around them, chatting, drinking, laughing, it was so right. The ones I least expected were the most kind, the closest ones to me moved me so. In this last year they all came in and out of my life, each trace unique, put yourself out there, be touched, all part of the great game.
Everything feels right and familiar, although the load of work to be done looms and grins at me menacingly; I will deal with it in due course. For now, sleeping, cooking (finally), responding to emails (still), organising and filling in forms are priority, although this convenient list of vaguely important but not that important tasks will soon be exhausted and things will have to be taken more seriously. Try to avoid escapism, try to avoid wasting time, but I guess time has to be taken, the transitions are not clear-cut, it takes time for soul to rejoin the body.
We were talking about London yesterday, with our dark pints, in the local pub, wordlessly scolding the noisy group at the next table in a very English way. It's funny how well I know it, every road, every corner, every view, in my mind's eye I can walk from Parliament Hill to Millenium Dome without missing a turn. Thinking of the varied architecture, sushi bars and bridges makes me want to see it; thinking of the Armani suits treading in rubbish and squeezing uncomfortably past the homeless makes me remember why I could not, and will not, stand it anymore.
It's not normal for a cat to hang out in the rain. The grey creature is very noisy, too – complains loudly outside and will not be ignored, as if it had some right to our attention. Of course I cave in, and on the second day Andrew finds me with the cat sat firmly on the chair next to me, looking innocent. We both get disapproving looks, and the cat gets the hint and disappears. I put a ribbon with my number around its neck and get a text back, apparently we're not the only house it's been visiting, cunning!
Being ill sends me into another dimension, time slows down and then picks up the pace madly, stretches like a chewing gum and bounces like a banjee. A long walk from the GPs in a desolate part of town seems to take minutes, but the wait in the hot car for my man takes centuries. Falling asleep until the world has recalibrated itself seems the best option, and I do. Everyone keeps asking if I have swine flu – I don't know, it's not been mentioned! If that's it, then bring it on, I've had menstruations that were worse than this!
It is not normal for a cat to be out in the rain. And wet. She ate the mascarpone happily enough, and the ham before that. After a few days of visits I put my number around her neck, and got texted back by another house who was feeding 'this lovely cat', but could not adopt it as they had a cat of their own. My household won't have her, I'm sure of it. Recently abandoned, she's still healthy, but already skinny, and clearly looking for company as much as for food. There is time yet to change his mind.
Boring old England. I get woken up by the sound of drums. 'Bloody racket'. I have to dance! The music is compelling. But the food just got here! I pass the delivery man with his bag full of curry in the passage way, I have to go an see what's going on! A part of the street below us is given over to a small but colorful party, children on adult's shoulders, young people with beer, and a samba band drumming away madly. I join the dancing snake and grin madly at the girl with the camera, surprising old England.
There are more flowers around town than I noticed on streets in Italy, people care for their gardens and it shows, every piece of soil is erupting with colours and leafs. Our little back garden goes madder by the day, like a spilled palette, the only place where colour is still not showing is on the tomatoes, to Andrew's frustration. We update one another daily on the proceedings of the rosebush and the maturity of the radishes. I resign to slug pellets around the lettuce, much too good to share, and it still makes it to the kitchen strangely perforated.
The work world is back, make a large pot of coffee, sit down at the laptop and type or read away, fighting off distractions. Which becomes difficult when the background music snatches me out of reality and brings body-and-soul back to just a few weeks ago, sits me at the driving wheel, the summer landscape rolls back, the traffic is intense and I focus with a constant smile, Almamegretta hums through the speakers, Ale sleeps awkwardly on the passanger seat, we've wasted so much time with this detour, but here is the memory, and it's a happy one.
The dog bounces off the blueberry bushes like it has springs on its paws, war paint of purple smudges along its sides while we struggle on in the sea of green, I keep stopping to pick the enticing round fruit, my trousers stained with blueberry juice from fruits I've squashed as we trample through this land without a path. Ridiculous abundance of vegetation, smell of crushed bracken, and ink blue sky on the horison, with a few brilliant white clouds, cheerful-looking until you realise they just the underside of a massive rain cloud, it just may go past us.
Jump over the wall and proceed along the stream, bubble bubble rumble it goes, merrily over stones. Shady and dark the forest is, full of dwellers, and amongst them us, tangled in vegetation, entangled. Lush and green and shady the valley is, steeper and steeper its walls barely visible, trees in the way, trees are the valley walls. To cross is to slide off (show off), slide off the rock and into the water, shucks. The hut is abandoned, but two bed frames made of sticks and a table await the return of the hermit. The dog doesn't do spooky.
It's all very normal really, her thigh-exposing pvc dress, walking up and down the garden path wobbling dangerously and spilling rose'; the others nine inch star-sprinkled high heeled shoes making planting holes in the lawn; the eyeliner bosom tattoos on all present ladies, plus a few neck ones for the interested parties; sitting around naked but for the towels; fiery circles of poi; forgotten discussions, heartfelt laughs and general silliness. Just a normal evening with friends, beer-fueled and really very pleasant. After passing out from guitar hero overdose all had a nice cup of tea, kept calm and carried on.
Euphoric. I don't remember ever feeling like that in London before. So many people, such diverse architecture, so many visual stimuli, my eyes and my mind are jumping from a t-shirt to a face to a facade to a view. The crowds don't bother me, the noise doesn't get to me, the traffic is easily dodged. Smells sounds colours, swim in the flow of information. I remember clearly however how numb you become living in this information river, how quickly your vision becomes restricted, your senses muted, and all you long for is peace and space, peace and QUIET!
There is an algorythm there somewhere to show the correlation between the amount of beer drunk and the perceived quality of music. Even the dreadful ageing hippy with his lonely guitar seems approprate when I'm down to Guiness. The guys that come afer have serious potential though. Well aged, dynamic, it shows they feel at home on the small pub stage. The ongs are good, make us sway awkwardly with our pint; the delivery is funny and exciting, the robust singer in his chequered shirt, the clown guitarist in a worn-out suit, the young blonde on the base, jump!
You can't complain about social networking sites, really. Life has become so much easier, varies, and exciting since they came about. Sure, the temptation of 'exploring your personality' through quizzes is ever-present and to be given into sometimes; but, hey, here is a girl I only spnt a few days with offering to host me in her home town; a long-lost friend from a different life who make themself known; even a forgotten romance raises its head, world just comes knocking at your door. The only trick - dodging the unwelcome visitors. Easier than in the real life really!
I just never get to see that many Polish people in one place any more. It is funny how the signs that are so obscure and mysterious for me in the English society jump out at me when it's 'my own people' - education, earnings, lifestyle, it's all perfectly clear. Here is a catholic girl, here a left-wing student... and here sits a snotty emigrant? All of the sudden I am not neutral any more, and perhaps I am not transparent either, perhaps they can read me just as easily as I read them - now here is a disturbing thought!
Naomi Klein writes in the Guardian - capitalism will be back if we don't watch out, is this what we want? But, excuse me, did I miss something, because it seems it's not gone anywhere, nor is it going to any time soon. We are capitalism, the cities, the roads, the useless jobs we have, the world is chin-deep in the system, it is the system. No, if anything does crash, everything will crash - so learn how to grow your own potatoes while you still can, beat the crowd to a sustainable lifestyle before it becomes the only lifestyle available.
Poing! Banjee umbilical cord of nationality. I must stop wondering at it, really. At the fact that you can get decent coffee at the train station, that people look relatively well-off and relaxed, that even a drunk sleeping under the departures board is a young healthy looking man. That the first page of one of the most popular newspapers critically assesses global economy, uncovers harmful health legislation and remembers the fallen in the Warsaw uprising all with one breath, and not a bit of flesh or gossip to be seen. Maybe we/they can do it, best of both?
The Tip Jar