The power of the new year. In the days before, the forces begin whipping up like a whirlpool. They swirl around inviting you in for a swim. A swim in the liminal space, the transition between one year to the next. It’s brief. As the currents are swirling they reveal our deepest desires, our resolutions, our honesty, a path. Surrendering to the currents is our choice. As quickly as the turbulence arrives, it leaves. The pressure relaxes and we’re catapulted into the new time, a new land, this space we call ‘a new year’. Often we arrive with a supply of vigour, and an extra hint of wisdom. Cherish these, workout how to keep them loaded. They’re gifts for the journey.
Happy New Year friends! And how are you? It’s been a hell-of-a-year hasn’t it!? Far out, so much topsy turvy! I don’t know the difference anymore between what is a gut feeling and what is a covid induced feeling. I truly don’t. And I can’t complain. I won’t. Many have it truly hard. I don’t lament missed trips or the time spent doing not much or all those boxes left unchecked. Where in the abyss did the second half of my year go? When will I see my family again? This day is the one I wait patiently for. This day, when it arrives, a day I already cherish.
Where did the whirlpool take you? Me, it gave me deliberate. Deliberate as a word to take me through this year. ‘Intentionally wilful’ my friend said today of deliberate. I like this description. There’s something determined about it. It’s been a few years between words for me, but this year the whirlpool was rather forceful. It’s time to be on the move, open to shaking things up. There is something or somewhere or someone, a gem or two for me to find this year. I’m rather determined about it. It’s probably why ‘deliberate’ arrived for this year – I have to work it out, where I’m going.
It’s been busy around these parts, good busy. I started working as a librarian one day a week. A job title I never thought I’d have! I guess I’ve been surrounded by writers, books and bookish desires for a while so it’s not that far out of the realm of coincidence, is it?!? I started working after my summer of writing in Tuscany.
Within a month of starting I’d written a library newsletter (of the happenings as I saw them). Interestingly, it seems the ‘human’ blog style of writing resonates in the real world. I was immediately offered another day to manage their socials. So these calls to do something, they do eventually lead somewhere. I think it’s nice to share this, after years of writing practice it finally pays (a little). Is it my dream job? I’m not sure, but it is something I needed.
Covid is of course keeping us in one place right now. So much change eh. From monthly to weekly to daily and back again. In no particular order. Nope, no plans, no big changes or decisions are happening here. Ok, maybe we will renovate our 100 year old house a little. But honestly it’s enough just keeping everyone together in this time.
There are so many people of all different ages and stages I feel for in this time. I don’t plan to plod through the year though. No. This is why deliberate matters. This is a year to prepare the ship, to work on what is needed to sail, to not look back, nor too far forward, but to be. Deliberate. Deliberate actions, deliberate thoughts, deliberate choices. For the wind will once again blow. And the wind, oh the wind, unlike the whirlpool – will take you along a way for years …. I’m gonna be ready for when she blows.
Perhaps, in the meantime I’ll write again. Deliberately.
Ciao dear friends. We can use ciao between us because we are friends, you and I all of us who hang out here. At first I found it difficult in my Italian classes to get over the hurdle of an informal and a formal language, why two languages within one? Today I get it. I found a reason. Indulge me while I write up the last of our Tuscan time with the recent musings of my mind. It’s time to take myself out from this writing slump I’ve landed myself in and share the end of this Tuscan holiday diary with you. So once again I can write to you from where I am now.
On the last day of our Tuscan escape we decided to follow our love of the home cooked Italian meal, we followed it up and into a restaurant in the mountains. Ristorante I Faggi was its name. High up at 1296m on the pass between the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Toscana she stands. A family restaurant serving meals directly from the Madre’s kitchen.
It was misty and cool as we made our way up the winding roads. We weren’t prepared for the cool and arrived in our shorts and t’s! We were grateful a table was available inside for us. I’m not going to lie it felt odd in these corona times to eat indoors on a cool, misty day. I didn’t settle in as I normally would’ve. I was conscious we were abroad and these times are corona times. For the first time it felt like what we were doing carried a degree of risk, perhaps it is because we were inside.
However, we were here now, committed to the eating and supporting this small family restaurant. So we ordered and decided not to feel fearful. The restaurant was small yet ventilated, we had our own dining room and there were few tables and guests.
And then it happened …
The food and the first bite. We were in home cooked wonderland. Have you been there recently? Tell me about your last such meal. The writing isn’t the only slump here, our food could do with a bit of spark.
Many hikers passed through here while we ate. In the future, when planning hiking trips are something we can do – I will be back. It reminded me of walking the camino and campervanning around Mont Blanc. There are many hiking trails in Europe where stopping for a cooked meal and even camping a night are part of the experience. I long for this again. When I hiked the camino I remember thinking how I could wander like this without a return date … perhaps in retirement.
The taste is one thing but also there is this feeling of community. The family run restaurant, the camaraderie among the hikers, the un-fancy yet welcoming decor. We were in someone’s home. More than that we were home, where we sat, who we sat with, what we ate and with each-other. It’s like what community feels like to me. To be eating food that’s sustainably made and sourced, amongst like minded people, surrounded by kindness, warmth and without expectations.
Of course I know community is more than this but this is always where I feel so complete, so home in myself, so at peace. Eating good food, kind people, my people and nature close by. A little bit of wild on the doorstep. In an adventure. All that is right with the world right here in this moment. Yes corona was knocking on the door, but at this moment in time it seemed to have gone to sleep for the summer.
This was the perfect last Tuscan meal and I’m rather pleased to be writing it up now. We’ve been back from our Italian break for a couple of months now and it’s time to come back here and finish this holiday diary. I’ve found myself in a bit of a writing slump. But today I relised the Tuscan lesson, it’s about what’s home. So I’m home. Home here. Home to writing. Home to creating.
Sometimes, I feel like I live in a state of culture shock. Not because I live abroad (although there is that) but because I struggle with pressure, rush, competition and convenience. And at times in my world these are unavoidable, in this phase of my life it seems more so than in the past. And these past years I have found myself frustrated and angrier with the world and the values I encounter in the world. More so than I remember feeling before.
Tuscany and the time since taught me something.
Community matters. Community feels like home. Community is about the people who meet you with their values, whose actions are aligned with making your heart feel warm and safe, whose heart paints your spirit with kindness. Whose speak connects to your soul, whose interests inspire you, people who arrive in your life to make you laugh when you least expect it. Our community isn’t everyone who lives near us, or all the ones who share the same settings (work, school) as us, nor is it all the ones who live in our feeds. Community is smaller than that, community doesn’t overwhelm us it protects us.
The Italian language also taught me something.
Perhaps, I need to know the two languages. The one I speak when I’m in my head, when I’m with the ones in my community and when I write. The informal one. The dreamy one. The one where I’m most at home. Where community means connection, noticing, hearing, reflecting, sharing and feeling. Where life is about attaching meaning to how we live and the choices we make. Where I am unafraid because I’m safe and among friends. I’m working at embracing and speaking this language more.
And the formal one. The one where when I’m in culture shock, where I need to step back or step away. Away from the allowing it to penetrate me because this is not the language that deserves my intimacy. This is not where I’m with friends, not where I’ll feel community. It’s not me. It’s not where I’ll be able to create anything because formality isn’t about dreamy. Giving myself here isn’t always aligned with my values. I’m investing less when I find myself here. Less in order to create more space for dreamy and for community.
And with this friends, the Tuscan escape ends!
What an amazing time. What a weird time to be away in the world. I’m glad we took the opportunity while we could. And I’m glad to have finally made some sense of the disarray this incredible experience threw me into upon my return. It’s not always easy to return to ‘as you were before’ when you’ve been moved by an experience! Impossible actually.
As a wise friend recently said to me ‘… sometimes you just have to sit it out for a bit’.
And with the the writing slump also ends. Ph-ew because I have so much to share with you. SO much.
Another day and another trip away from the Tuscan villa a.k.a. the bolthole. Today it was into the beating heart of Tuscany and the birthplace of the renaissance, Florence. Also the home of Michelangelo’s ‘David’, Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ and da Vinci’s ‘Annunciation’. I may need to get this out early in case I disappoint you. We went to Florence on this day and we didn’t visit any of these! No. Nessuna. Nienta. But don’t worry I’ve seen them before … twice. On this day we simply wandered, ate and breathed in Florence.
You may see a theme evolving in our Italian trip. Food. And gelato. And contented smiles. Italians have worked it out you see. They know that pleasure and happiness is tied to enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Convivial times and food that comes from close to home and is cooked traditionally, simply and with heart. And of course they are fortunate in that everywhere they wander there is art in all its forms. From the architecture to the vineyards, Italy is purely romantic poetry for the soul. It is hard not to be in love with every second in Italy.
The Pizza Della Signoria, the Florence Cathedral and Ponte Vecchio all relatively empty. I have never experienced Florence in this way. Florence is so mind blowing of course it doesn’t matter who you share it with, but on this quiet day I took some very long, very deep breaths. I also ran into an Aussie friend on the Ponte Vecchio. Right now the world doesn’t feel small but in this magical brief moment of coincidence the world again felt small.
I danced with love today in Florence. For those of you who know us and me you will know Italy lives in our hearts and home. (Complete with the pizza oven.) Even writing here now I feel my heart flutter with a yearning. Perhaps it is curiosity. If I was 20 I’d take a year in Italy. I didn’t know of the possibilities then. I don’t want to lose this feeling. I’m nervous about when I return. Home to Holland where the food can’t be compared, where the cities, language, culture and landscape don’t captivate my spirit in this way! Where I’ll again be confronted with the realities of the current state of the world.
‘As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you.’ – Anthony Bourdain.
I feel the familiar stirrings of change. Of considering what needs to stay and what needs to be let go. Of missing what’s familiar and still craving what’s exciting. Of knowing I still have many chapters to write in this story of my life. That there is some stagnation inside that needs to be broken down so the flow of creativity and curiosity (the life blood) can be free. The marks of travel – the reminders, the peeling back.
Florence lives in us now. And also on one of our dining room walls. In the form of a little piece of Tuscan inspired art, bought on the street from an artist. After this day in Florence my eight year old declared ‘this is my favourite city in the world’. His siblings agreed. My job is done ;) Perhaps I won’t take them to Florence again. It seems a nice way to leave it for them to remember. I will of course come back. Maybe I’ll hike in one day. I’d particularly like to see the Botticelli again and breath in the Florence air. Dreaming is of course my air, my lungs are full. Full of Florence magic.
After a week or so of chilling in one spot we decided to venture out and explore. It’s not our first visit to this region so we decided to pick a new medieval and renaissance hill top town. An Italian colleague of Greg’s had recommended Montepulciano, an hour South of where we were staying. Masks at the ready and perhaps with a tad of nervousness, we packed our brood and drove down the long gravel driveway away from our Tuscan bolthole. Off on an adventure.
I was ready for some awe. I read a quote recently my friend Brydie shared, let me find it.
One sec I’ll share it here.
Here it is …
” … studies have shown that awe can make us more patient and less irritable, more humble, more curious and more creative.” Julia Baird.
Oh there it is. Actually I needed to read that today. Yes, awe. What a fabulous ‘thing’ to wish for. To experience. Hmmm, yes awe, indeed, this is what I strive to accumulate. Moments of awe. In fact I just found my new intentional direction – in pursuit of awe. Oooh yes. I’ll come back to this once I’ve caught you up on Tuscany.
As soon as we arrived at the parking space to the town it was different! No tourists. No buses. No Busy. We zipped into a parking spot and wandered 100 or so metres through the gated entrance to this classic Tuscan Hill Town.
This is ancient, traditional and modern Italy. And this is an exceptional moment in time to experience it. Big deep appreciative breaths (from behind the mask). Everyone is wearing masks here. So different to The Netherlands where the reluctance to wear masks (except where it is mandated on PT) is quite astounding to me.
First food. As we wandered into the town there was a restaurant directly to the left. The food looked mouth watering. In case you’re there the restaurant is Osteria Porta di Bacco.
‘Greg, look at that food’ I said.
‘Let’s eat here!’ He replied directly.
Ok then lunch sorted. And of course there was a table available because few tourists.
Sweet Jesus! The food. We all died and went to heaven. Can I share with you how pleasing it is to have your kids socks rocked by food. Very pleasing indeed.
‘Best food ever’ they proclaimed in unison (even the fussy ones).
The pasta is pici and it’s traditional to this area. It is also apparently one of the easy pasta’s to make at home. I will be trying it! Jamie has one that’s made with courgette. Anyone want to try with me? Here’s the recipe. I’ll give it a whirl this weekend – seems like an ‘awe’ inducing kind of thing to try.
The kids had theirs with wild boar ragu. It’s their favourite meal now, Not sure where to find wild boar but I’m on the look out. It’s also not heavy on the sauce. We get that a bit wrong outside of Italy I think. Mine was a simple one; tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. I also had stuffed zucchini flowers … that melted in my mouth. Greg ate a cow as you can see. The boys assisted.
The afternoon was spent slowly wandering the car-less cobblestone laneways and taking in the beauty that is to be somewhere astounding. Somewhere that is centuries old. Centuries old ingredients, walls and life. We walked (and parkoured) in the footsteps of those who has walked and lived amongst these walls in complete contented awe. There was no need to be nervous about traveling here now in Corona times, I felt the fear ease.
‘This’ I said to Greg.
‘This wandering amongst life and history (and eating) is a thing I love to do’.
This day I really felt awe. I felt a deep return to a feeling I love. The joy of wanderlust.