Tag Archives: Tuscany

Into the Hut

Gertrude Stein did it in her Model T Ford while her partner, Alice, drove the car. Virginia Woolf did it standing up. Saul Bellow stood up as well. Whereas, James Joyce preferred to lie on his stomach in bed.

Nude and cold, Benjamin Franklin did it in a dry bathtub. Agatha Christie, a bathtub filled with warm water.

E.B. White did it in a boathouse on a saltwater farm in Maine. Rita Dove, by candlelight in a cabin. And Annie Dillard, in a tent pitched in her yard on Cape Cod.

Where writers write.

What are the chances? Two friends on two coasts, landing in their respective writing huts. But that is just what is happening.

Dulcie's cabinHers in Maine

Kim's hut Water

Mine on San Juan Island, Washington

In his introduction to Jill Krementz’s photographic book, The Writer’s Desk, John Updike notes “… the requirement of any writing space is that it disappear from the mind’s eye of the inhabitant, to be replaced, by the verbal vistas of poetry and prose.”

Apparently some of us build it so it can disappear.

For me, “a hut in the woods” had always been hypothetical. Nevertheless I coveted it, the proverbial writing hut. What a formidable writer I might be, I thought, if I only had a hut in the woods!

So much more than a room of one’s own, it’s a little house of one’s own.

My friend’s hut is still under construction. “The shell is done and it is insulated now from top to bottom,” she wrote last month. “But it’s still sitting beside my house waiting for walls and flooring and electricity and a bed and a fireplace and a water pitcher and a coffee pot and, well you get the picture.”

I recently asked for an update, but of course everything in Maine is frozen in place and under four or five feet of snow. I learned that she has another site in mind for her hut. Note: my friend’s hut has a gender and it’s a “she.”

“She did not make it to her pond destination before the snows descended upon us. So there she waits, very quiet, for spring thaw. She still has a lighted tree on her porch, like a twinkle in her eye, waiting for the next chapter of life to unfold.”

“So do I,” adds my friend.

My hut sits in an old growth forest at the edge of a bay. Both of us will have water views, water sounds, and water fowl.

My hut came with the house, as a shed. The old shed got a new roof, hardwood floors, French doors, new windows, electricity, insulation, cedar shingle siding, tongue and groove pine ceiling, beaded board walls. More than I ever dreamt.

I had hoped to keep the oars that were up in the rafters, but I lost the rafters when we insulated the ceiling.

And I too wanted to bring a daybed into my writing hut, but an overflow of living room furniture bumped the daybed. To make up for the missing daybed, we put an Aerobed in the hut’s loft, sleeping double.

With a settee, a pair of upholstered French chairs, and a small marble topped coffeetable on guilded legs, my hut looks like a salon. The antique pine table that our family once dined at morning, noon and night is now my writing table. A dresser holds my papers. And books, books, books are piled on an enormous baker’s rack and in a glass-fronted legal bookcase I found in a thrift store on island for forty dollars.

Investments in my writing life are starting to stack up. The MFA at Goddard, attending various writers conferences, a travel writing workshop in Tuscany, and now this. I don’t know how my friend in Maine is going to feel when her hut is up and running, but I am a little afraid of it.

In part, because it is so much more than I, or anyone, needed. And in part, because writing is hard work.

“Our task as we sit (or stand or lie) is to rise above the setting, with its comforts and distractions,” explains John Updike, “into a relationship with our ideal reader, who wishes from us nothing but the fruits of our best instincts, most honest inklings, and firmest persuasions.”

John Cheever, who wrote in a room looking into a wood, liked to imagine that his readers were out there, in that forest.

From my hut in the San Juan Islands to her hut in Maine, we are not alone.


Filed under writing hut

Reign of Water

What is the phenomena when something you love in life, rises up and knocks you down? I recently had that experience returning from a writing workshop in Tuscany where we were forever outdoors, well fed, enjoying wine, morning, noon, and night, basking in and absorbing all the natural and artistic beauty, and giving back by way of writing. If I were to design a heaven for myself, this might be it.

My intention in coming home, was good. Something along the lines of I will just try to bring it all back with me. I saw no reason for it to end. I still had my Tuscan magazine piece to finish, and if possible, I would like to feel as inspired here as I did there.

And so upon landing, as soon as I had unpacked all my notes and books and recipes, I flung open the doors of our house and made every effort to turn our little English Tudor in Seattle into an Italian Villa. By slow-cooking our meals, braising beef, veal, pork or lamb, my husband and I would embrace eating and drinking with the same daily seriousness as the Tuscans. And the wine would continue to pour….

That first night I made Balsamic-Glazed Short Ribs, which smelled divine all day but in the end was too rich a dish for us, too late at night. And the wine, whatever happened to the wine, so pure in Italy? I am not the first to suggest that one can drink quite well in Europe with no adverse effect, but come home and…. Well, I suspect additives and preservatives to meet the requirements of the US Food and Drug Administration. I know everyone is currently bent out of shape over privacy issues with NSA, but personally I am much more concerned about this.

In other words, I tried to bring the Tuscan lifestyle home and it didn’t translate. Instead, a perfect storm ensued: the wine hit, food poisoning, and dehydration…. And for what I would describe as a week, though my husband says it was just days, I lay about trying to get some water into me, drop by drop.

I had all that time to think about water.

Where my mind was not allowed to go, however, was to food and drink.

So I thought of a handful of friends who have stopped drinking over the years. You know who you are, I love you, and thank you. You pulled me through and showed me where to go if I ever got out of the trouble I was in.

I may change my mind oneday, but right now I’m pretty passionate. I want to let this gentle “Reign of Water” run its course—and see where it goes. Perhaps it will be my most productive and prolific period yet.

I’ll toast my water goblet to that.


Filed under dehydration

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.


Filed under writing workshop