Monthly Archives: May 2013

Under the Tuscan Umbrella

I had the good fortune this month to attend the Travel, Food and Wine Writing Workshop in Tuscany with Nick O’Connell. A group of writers drove and flew in from France, Australia and The States to wine and dine and concoct stories as varied and honest as a Tuscan stew or ragu.

Landing in Rome I would have know exactly where in the world I was, if I had been transported there in my sleep–which of course I was. The villas, the landscape. The planted trees atop hills spaced like musical notes….

We considered ourselves fortunate for the verdant green landscape. Deep forests, gray-green olive groves, promising vineyards, and fields of bright yellow Scottish Broom punctuated with orange-red poppies. At this time of year, we were told, the hillsides are typically gold.

I should have known, for we had flown atop a mattress of cloud all the way.

In Siena my friend and I sat under café awnings in the shell shaped piazza, the Campo, watching monsoon rains wash the stones and run down Roman aqueducts. But for the most part, it was a soft rain with sunbreaks.

Our group walked the vineyards, and strolled among monks in the abbeys. Hiked La Madonna, the path along the perimeter of the hilltop town of Montalcino, where the park drops off into the view like an infinity pool.

When we weren’t eating, drinking or writing, we were walking….

Tuscany is rose country. Roses grow over walls, roofs, and over all, like bougainvillaea along the Riviera.

I fell in love with bells in Siena. Bouquets of bells, from every church and cathedral. But before the bells, an owl woke us each morning. Carried through the narrow canyons of city streets, the three same notes, then silence. Three notes, and silence….

People in Tuscany are very present. The people of Tuscany are not on cell phones.

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Rosemary for Remembrance

If I could live my life over again, I’d start gardening at an earlier age.

My first mentor in the gardening world was a woman we called “Mere.”  (My grandfather loved to work the land and grow things, but Mere was there when I was ready). And for all her horticultural knowledge and experience, she could not be accused of being a garden snob. I like to think I inherited that too.

Mere, or Marge Potter, was my grandmother’s friend, having grown up together in Connecticut. Marge recalled the day grandma’s father surprised his little girl with a pony in the kitchen on her birthday, as she was coming downstairs to breakfast. My grandmother lived her entire life in that enormous house, whereas Marge moved with her husband to Cleveland, and later, retired in San Diego. And that is where I was living at the time with my husband and our two young daughters. As a courtesy to my grandmother I went to call on her old friend, never guessing I would become so enamored with her too.

Marge is the one who threw me out of the house and down the garden path. She believed in herbs the way a witch or an old medicine man believes in them. Herbs had meaning and health benefits and a prominent place in her garden always. We spent many a late afternoon and early evening sitting on her terrace where a weathered, wooden St. Francis sculpture held court in the herb garden, my daughters tumbled about on the lawn, and the sun set over purple hills.

Today in Seattle, and everywhere we have lived since knowing her, I have made an herb garden of my own. My herbs grow in pots that have become wonderfully mossy and white, and perch upon a black wrought iron etegere that looks decidedly French. A St. Francis stands on my terrace as well. We use the herbs in cooking, enjoy the scent, and as much as an herb garden is a part of our lives now, it is also a memorial to Marge. I think of that every day I water.

Many of the herbs, such as the vigorous mint and oregano, hop around and seed themselves between pavers on the terrace. Marge would approve and say something like, “They know where they want to go.”

So I water them too.

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Having Babies

Everyone remembers their first time. Where they were. The time of day. The anticipation…. I remember my first time. Where I was: at home. Who was home: no one, I had the house to myself. How I had waited! Holding it, loving it, and finally, just content to have it in my arms.

It was some time before I even considered opening the envelope.

I am talking about the first time I received a manuscript to read. Deliveries such as this usually come Fed Ex. Chances are you requested it, or the writer asked you to be an early reader. Either way, it’s flattering. To be that trusted and to know that your opinion is valued. To be afforded a look before all the world can see it.

The first friend who sent me a manuscript—it was also her first novel—had to know what a thrill it was. As an aspiring writer myself, I studied her words and the way she put them together. I studied how the manuscript was printed and bound, the illustration she had found for the cover, and the care with which she had selected her title. I read passages over and over, and made notes on the double-spaced, single-sided pages, as she requested. I felt I was part of a book launch. And I was deeply jealous.…

She is the one who spurred me on in writing. I was between coasts and between arts at the time, and she prescribed Julia Cameron’s “The Artists Way,” a course I have been practicing now for fourteen years and counting. Writing grounded me. I found I loved it more than anything. Whatever else I may do, I know now that I will write my way through.

Then I lost her. Her life went into flux. A name change, a move…. and now I am trying to find her. She needs to know that I still believe in her novel and am always keeping an eye out for it. More than anything, I hope to hear that she is writing. And I want to thank her for changing the course of my life.

The most recent manuscript to land on my lap came electronically, of course, but I printed it up nevertheless. This baby weighed in at a healthy 9 lbs. I say “baby” because a book may be the closest thing to having a baby that a man can have. This one is a memoir. A memoir that moved me to places no one would ever want to go, places we didn’t know existed. And took me inside what it must be to be a nine, thirteen, and fourteen year old boy, a dear boy at that. I wanted to rescue him at every turn.

In the end, at 3 am, I sat there stunned, in my house so quiet, his manuscript upon my lap. Finding it incredulous that my friend had lived through it once, and then again in the writing. A writer lives twice.

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