Watcher, Giulio, George, Jean

Yes, I am a watcher

June 17, 2021

I am a watcher. Have always been. One of my problems in communicating when I should, perhaps, have been more of a participant. But that’s the way I am. I was never the kind to prattle endlessly to my little ones as I rode them around in their baby carriages. Now, perhaps, that’s why they don’t talk all that much with me. Except both of them are skilled with words, can be witty and scholarly. So they learned somehow, somewhere. Perhaps, because Italians in general do talk with little children.

How quickly we forget. If I didn’t have those albums of photographs, I would have forgotten that Claudio did his homework with Anacleto, curious name it seemed to me at the time. But there are also things I remember which they have forgotten, like the time I sent Claudio out to get a Christmas tree and he came back with a limping little abandoned dog. We couldn’t keep him for we already had my parents’ dog. Claudio doesn’t remember, but I do.

Perhaps, one’s tendency to be a watcher is more difficult to keep up as responsibilities pile up. I can now hover over my 92 year old self and watch how my day unfolds. It may start with a bark, meaning it is time for breakfast. Since nights now seem to be the best time to go back to the past, to think, and to worry about the future, at six thirty or seven when the dog, Teah becomes impatient with her human mother, the day begins again. Most of the people who will constellate the day have not yet had their coffee. Perhaps there will be messages on the computer, although with the time differences they mostly come in much later.

The dried up oranges on the dish where the fruit is kept should probably be discarded. They would have been perfect studded with cloves for Christmas.

The pictures on the wall are all memories of the past. Archaeology, Picasso, Piranesi, Chagall, a portrait of my mother when she was 18.   And one, my favorite, of the Romanian poet, Ian Bucur.


I watch and each object takes me back into the past. Of course, for that’s when they were acquired, when they became part of my life. From the photo of Brutus the cat, a present from my younger son, a signed Matre, to the elaborate clay whistle from Puglia with little birds coming out of rows of what could be thought of as dovecotes, the amazing folded and cut paper ship with the lines: There are good ships and wood ships, ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships, may they always be. The blue bowl that seems to whisper nothings from the slits in the side, a Christmas present from my older son, the small Japanese cracklè bowl from my granddaughter in Japan. And what about the CDs and the DVDs? What do they say of me? And, of course, the books. One could go on and on.

That is now my world. No, there’s more to it, for crossing the threshold and walking the streets presents those other worlds of which I know a lot yet also little. How many stories to be told.

Stories of the past and of the present. Shall I start with one? An unexpected friendship, all the more so since I had been told that after a certain age one doesn’t make new friends any more. Not true! Our capacity for making friends never dies away, it may die down, like embers under the ashes but a breeze, you can blow on it and it will once more flame.

There was, for instance, Giulio.

I first met Giulio when an old friend of mine was visiting from the States. “You know”, she said,” I haven’t seen Giulio for ages. We worked together in Rome over thirty years ago – you may even have met him then. He lives in the Chianti. Think we could drive up for the day?”

Having nothing better to do, we took off early one morning. Somehow we did manage to find the village where he now lived. Well, one could hardly call it a village for it was just a tiny group of stone houses separated by lanes that seemed part of the houses themselves. They were mostly empty except for the hunting season. We wended our way down what was basically a rocky trail on the outskirts as my friend, leaning on her cane and hanging on to me, swore she would never walk that path again.

Someone had told me that after a certain age, one doesn’t have new encounters, make new friends. It’s only the old ones you can still communicate with – if they’re still around. But Giulio was different. We had hit it off immediately, rather leaving the old friend from Rome out of things. I was fascinated by this elderly gentleman, for gentleman he was despite living like a hermit on the barest essentials. And gentleman he truly had been, as I soon found out when he began to tell me about his life in his beautiful English. But that is also part of the story.

“Write” he had said when my friend and I left, and in the beginning I wrote, accompanying my letters perhaps with a drawing or a photo. His answers were what I would come to recognize as a typical of my new-found friend, a mixture of personal feelings and entertaining “scientific” information. He would have made a great teacher.

His answer of September 29th to one of my first letters was quintessentially Giulio.

September 29, 2005

“I’m so glad you wrote (I hoped you would) because it is such a rare pleasure to meet someone who is on the same wave length and who understands perfectly and easily what one is saying, a meeting of the minds. So it’s a pity that you live so far away, otherwise I’m sure we would talk happily for hours and come away with the warm feeling of having been understood.”

His letters and mine. They reflected our interests, our thoughts and surroundings. I tried to be entertaining, sketching a flower and asking him what it was or telling him about the tree I had noted by the gas station, a tall evergreen with drooping branches that brought to mind the trees in Romantic German paintings by Caspar David Friedrich.

I was always sure to get an answer and I imagine it gave him a chance to talk with someone. He might, then, even go off into some other subject, like Gorgonzola.

“The flower you have drawn, I should say is Vervain (Verbena officinalis). The yellow crocus-like flower is called (I don’t know the English name) Sternbergia lutex (meaning yellow).

The story about Gorgonzola was that when the Romans founded “colonie” for their demobilized soldiers they gave them hopeful-sounding names, one, near Milan (Mediolanum) they called Concordia. Now, next to Concordia, there grew up a little suburb that they called Concordiola with the charming Latin diminutive in –ola, (near here there is a little old church called Badiola and on Elba a little watch-tower on a cliff, for pirates, is called La Guardiola). After centuries, the land was overrun by Germanic barbarians and with their heavy accent, Concordiola soon became Gorgonzola!”

Our friendship thus began by exchanging letters. 

There weren’t many for he eventually confessed that writing was difficult. I then began to phone him once a week, carefully timing it so he wouldn’t be watching something on TV – mainly one of the soap operas with pretty girls in them. I wish now though he had written me more. Phone calls are so evanescent – like memory. But whether in his letters or on the phone, he always had some topic ready to discuss, and might ask me if I thought the picture in the background of the Velazquez Christ in the House of Mary and Martha was a view into another room, or a reflection in a mirror, or a picture on the wall. 

When I described a spider web I had observed on my balcony, with no ladder in one section, I received a lecture on spiders in return.

October 29, 2005 

“An easy way to distinguish between spiders is by their webs which vary with each species. Zigiella, for instance, makes a round web but always leaves two adjacent sections without cross-threads. Eperia fasciata (is striped like a tiger) also makes a round web and leaves a vertical silk ladder in the middle.  Linyphia triangulares weaves little horizontal webs, noticeable in the bushes on dewy mornings. The long-legged spider that lives in houses and always seems to be upside down Pholcus phalagoides is content just to make an untidy jumble of threads, in the corner of two walls without any sort of design at all!”

I wonder now if he had all this in his mind or if he looked it up before answering me.

Dear Giulio,

If you had e-mail I would write you every day. If you had e-mail you would write me all about yourself.

To be continued . . .

One thought on “Watcher, Giulio, George, Jean

  1. This post has a bit of everything—a veritable pot-pourri of media and subject matter. But the still life that features that striking teal-blue bowl from a Christmas past is a masterpiece.

    And then there’s unique Giulio. How is it that I had not really heard about him before?

    You, my dear friend, continue to be full of surprises.

    Envoyé de mon Di-Phone

    Liked by 1 person

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