Come and Gone

Australia to Orvieto to Australia, via Libia and Sweden.

There was once a ruin (once a farm house) on a hill overlooking the valley. The stones had long decided to go their own way and creatures of various kinds had taken up their abode in cracks and overhanging shelters. Neither four-footed animal nor Christian came there any more.  

Until one day a tall and handsome couple decided there were possibilities here to set up a home. Their wanderings had taken them from the bustling cities of Australia, to the far-flung deserts of Libia to the forests and fjords of  Norway and Sweden. Now though they had become tired of wandering and wanted a place they could settle in, could grow to love. They had worked hard and helped others make homes but perhaps it was time for them to retire.

Well, yes. It was time for them to retire. But exactly what did that mean?

According to the dictionary it means you’ve withdrawn from your active working life.

They pondered often on the concept. Curiously enough the word in English, to retire, had been appropriated from the French, originally, back in the 16th century, used in the military sense; i.e. “to withdraw to a place of safety or seclusion” (from the French ‘re’ (back) and ‘tirer’ (to draw).

They supposed that compared to Libia they were now in a place of safety.

True, they were no longer involved in anything profitable or lucrative. They were no longer essential to the procedures of every day. Retirement was simply a shift from one type of life to another. It gave them a chance, opened the door, for them to do what they perhaps had always really wanted to do. Retirement gave them the precious gift of time for themselves.

The stones were taken in hand, set back one on the other, and before long walls and a roof offered shelter to human beings. The great poplar tree near the entrance was left, respected, the olive trees were properly pruned, the grapevines too. Orderly rows. A lawn, to be the beloved reign of moles, was seeded green under the poplar which covered the ground with its white seed wings every spring.

One would think it had snowed. Roses were planted – they were under the special care of the woman who loved them and knew all their names. A quince tree eventually found its way to the field and its golden fruit made one think of Jason’s golden apples.

Iris and daffodils were planted. Paths were created along the ravine. One might have described it as a garden of Eden, but unlike the original it needed constant care and work. For years, through times of drought and downpours, the garden grew. Birds hopping on the tiles peered into the windows and sang their songs, morning and evening, challenging her to identify them. There were European robins, tits, nightingales (although they always kept at a distance), she has them all in her phone for identification. And out in the field she put markers around the wild orchids so her husband would not cut them down.

True, when it poured the road that led up from the mailbox was rutted and practically impossible to navigate. And under the wild apple trees scattered here and there among the grape vines one had to be careful not to disturb the vipers. The vines twisted around the trees, vite maritate the Italians called them. The vine wedded to its support.

When it came time to pick the grapes, or the olives, in November, friends came to help and there was a banquet at the end of the day. They must have done that in the olden days – beginning with the Etruscans, as they looked out on the cliff across the valley. And those who could afford it, put their final resting place, their tombs, here, with a view of their city, Velzna.  Now though it was the cathedral, still a manifestation of the divine, with its facade that glowed golden in the late afternoon sun, taking your breath away. This was what the pilgrims on their way to Rome in the 15th and 16th centuries must have seen once they had traversed the plateau.

One year after the other. The oak by the ravine fell. Visitors came and went. Christmas was celebrated, and the new wine. But the years also passed for the man and his wife. It became harder to cut the wood, climbing up to prune the olives led to falls. He was no longer young and it became more difficult for her to prune her roses.

Perhaps it was time to say farewell to all of this and return to the home they had left to seek their fortunes, to seek the answer to their lives in a country they had once known intimately and that now no longer felt like home, but that they could look on as a place of safety. Perhaps it was time to build new memories, with new adventures.  The old memories would always be there, to turn to when they felt homesick. For when one loves a person, or a place, it becomes part of us and cannot easily be dismissed.

6 thoughts on “Come and Gone

  1. Erika

    It has been foggy here in Seattle for a week.

    Your post about your friends was lovely. The paragraph at the end struck me as it describes my own feelings as the Pandemic goes, I realize I may or may not ever return to Italy or Orvieto. Perhaps like the Jerusalem syndrome, something struck me beginning with my time with Wolf and Meta, and of course through the years with you, that made me feel that Orvieto is truly my hometown. I know many other visitors have had the same feeling, most of them your students and friends. I could go on and on about my bonds with the Orvieto moon over the valley and the lightning and the ghosts of Etruscans of course—and I still wander in my mind the Tamburini and the countryside. Now with the pandemic and health ….

    We had a nanny for many years as you know, a woman who had been a schoolteacher and have had nine children of her own before she joined our family, and she used to say famously: “Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened!”

    We’ll it’s not over yet, but as your eloquent piece echos the song… Turn! Turn! Turn!

    To everything (turn, turn, turn) There is a season (turn, turn, turn) And a time to every purpose, under heaven A time to build up, a time to break down A time to dance, a time to mourn A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

    Abbracci 🌹 J

    Our granddaughter Costanza got Covid a week after she got her vaccination. She had mild symptoms and is doing fine now —rest of the family is being tested. Sent from my iPhone



  2. Such a nice tribute to our friends enhanced by exquisite photos!

    Memories: I have never seen or tasted more beautiful quince, whose perfume used to scent our kitchen long before we turned them into something delicious. And those glorious roses!

    I especially love the truth of your last two sentences.


  3. Hello Erika,

    After reading this I understand why, when Rosemarie and I passed by their house and walked up to the shell that was once Kay and Csaba’s refuge I felt such sadness. All that was so carefully thought out, tended, loved ….now demolished. While I understand the need to make a place your own, it felt like there was no trace left, inside or out (except perhaps for the tree) of the lives lived there.

    When we bought the house in Mill Valley, the story of the previous owners was a very sad one. The husband, a writer, who worked on screenplays for Sam Peckinpaw, died just a few weeks after his wife (of a broken heart I think). They were in their 70s. Frank had asked the realtor if the children who were selling the house and in their late 40s I would guess, if they wanted to sell some of the furniture and that they didn’t need to clear out the house and could leave whatever they didn’t want and if we couldn’t use it, we’d dispose of it. That made it easier for them and for us as we had no furniture and could what they left until the repairs were made, which took a few years….and we ended up keeping quite of bit of it. Being a writer, James had loads of books, many of which they also left behind, including Jana’s (a professional cook) cookbooks. They had a lot of talented artist/writer friends and invariably when I would open a book of theirs, out would drop a postcard from a a friend traveling in europe, or asia, or a birthday or anniversary card. I loved finding these memorabilia, opening a cookbook and reading Jana’s notes in the margins, feeling every time a sort of connection with them. As I do when I work in the garden, pondering the immense amount of work it must have been to have lugged in the tons of rock to build those terraces. They loved that house and for me are still very much a part of it…. a welcome presence.

    I just realized this morning that for about a week, none of my apple ID mail was being downloaded, so i haven’t received any of yours for days, and Frank’s computer may have been hacked, so he hasn’t checked his mail either. Just found out you sent a note Friday about the cauliflower. I’m sorry neither of us answered you before this. How did the vet visit go? We are planning to walk this afternoon, if you feel like meeting us at the parking lot. Looks like it’s a lovely day. Or I’ll come up later to pick up the cauliflower if it’s still there. (I have a great recipe for curried cauliflower that I was thinking about making yesterday in fact, but didn’t have cauliflower).





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