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According to the dictionary it means you’ve withdrawn from your active working life.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