Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


I’d spent an hour composing an expanded version of the EU Passport for my dog post, and when I pressed PUBLISH, it vanished. Poof. Really irritating. I tried to find it in the trash, but it’s gone. There’s a retrieval service that wants to charge me 71 Euro, and though I was on the verge of sending it my money, I’ve pulled back. Evidently, the universe did not want me to publish that last blog.

I talked about rescuing two blackbirds from a fox trap, buying a magnificent 12 carat citrine and diamond ring in Colle di Val d’Elsa, and how wrenching this upcoming separation is turning out to be. I have four more days. Volterra. San Gimignano. Poggibonsi. This is like waiting for an execution.

Mysterious and sinister happenings in the neighborhood. Augusto of the Pietrafitta clan was found dead ten days ago. The first report attributed death to a heart attack. Subsequent updates mention suicide or, more likely, foul play. The apartment of the winery secretary was ransacked at about the same time. These reports are confirmed by Michaele, who lives in the same complex — “Il Palazzo” — as the secretary.

A fourth rumor has it that the death was staged and that Augusto, who had been under house arrest for embezzling two million Euro, has gone off somewhere.

Maurizio mowed and plowed the olive grove, arousing our misantrophic suspicions that he is scheming to expand his claims on the trees. WIllie and I met with him to offer to pay him for his hard work. He showed up at the gate on a bicycle, with his 15 month daughter Sofia on the handlebars, and his pregnant wife close behind in the truck. I assume he wanted his entire support staff on hand to shield him from whatever malevolence he expected to receive from us. He protested energetically that he had no ill intent in doing the work, worried that it had been badly done, and emphatically and endlessly insisted that he was reciprocating Michaele’s help to him on various occasions. We’ve left it at that. I’m trying to figure out what nice thing I can do for them before I leave.

I type this standing, channelling old Vlad N. If only I could write like him! He’s been on my mind since the afternoon walk with both dogs to the lake, where the frog chorus was magnificent, the ducks raucous, the wind – a polyglot sussuration, and all these sounds, I came to understand, are the voice of the sun speaking through the great resonator of the Earth and all its creatures. And what, I ask, makes the sun speak?

Domenico talked, in his note to F., about the light that shines through his window as being the “expression” of the sun, not the sun itself, just like the thought of F. is an “expression” of her being, rather than her self. I like that way of distinguishing the modalities of being in the universe.

After much hesitation, preliminary rumbling, windy false starts, and high altitude shuffling and reshuffling of clouds, the rain has finally begun. Drops started to fall on the drawing I had started after dinner. I persisted for some minutes, hoping it was another false alarm, but this time the rain came in earnest.

The new generation of swallows has hatched. The parents are frantically collecting insects, flying back and forth between the nests and the fields and swooping into the pool for a beak-full of water. Even with their voracious appetites, they cannot keep up with the prodigious volume of insects hatching and instantly breeding. I spotted superhighways of ants in the vineyards. Vlad Nabokov take note: blue and yellow and brown butterflies in the  cacophony of meadow flowers. Extraordinary vitality!


EU passport for my dog

The chiaroscuro of  Italian life so organized as to maximize the dramatic potential in every  transaction, no matter how insignificant. Today’s interview with the official in charge of issuing European Union Canine Passports, working out of Colle di Val d’Elsa’s Ufficcio d’Anagrafo Canino, was typically involved. What stateside would have taken ten minutes, here took two hours: waiting and during the waiting striking up conversations with fellow petitioners; accepting Sig. Salvatore’s invitation to continue waiting in the official’s office, which lasted long enough for me to make a thorough study of the five animal-themed calendars hanging on the various walls, as well as to finger the artisanal embroidery on the doilies shrouding the metal canine examination table; followed by the desired interview which revealed that the veterinarian in San Gimignano  whom I had to consult twice to obtain the necessary document on the basis of which I was dispatched to the Registry in Poggibonsi where I paid 46 Euro for the passport which i am now trying to get in Colle di Val d’Elsa…

Palazzo Niccolini

Greetings from Palazzo Niccolini, Suite 2. 20 foot ceilings. Frescoes with hunting scenes, courtships, and various apotheoses. A mammoth four poster bed with satin curtains. My mother is horrified by the vicious butchery of the fresco hunt, and relinquished the huge bed to me in favor of sleeping on the pull out couch so she won’t have to wake up to the image of the beagle on its back, its face contorted in a death agony as its entrails gush from its ruptured abdomen. A few inches away the wild boar who created this damage is ready to impale another dog, oblivious of the spears about to penetrate its hide. High drama.

In Florence,the crowds have swollen. Hordes of Americans: men in the usual baggy khaki shorts down to the knees; women in “practical” , color-coordinated travel togs from Chico; students – guys in baggy shorts and baggy t-shirts gals in short-shorts or cut offs and tube tops. You know the drill: leaning on every wall and column and railing, hands perpetually in pockets. I, of course, just scream “American trying to go incognito” . Now that my sister is back in NYC, my  mother and I are a little more relaxed. Logistics are much simpler with two adults and two dogs, vs. three adults and two dogs.In our family, the women are intolerably headstrong, opinionated, and diva-esque and everybody has to have the last word; consequently, conversations tend to drag on for hours.

The day began with three repair men, seriatim, trying to address the issue of the excruciatingly slow internet.

And now, many many hours later, I am falling alseep.


A full moon. A national holiday: the Day of the Republic, commemorating the day, in 1946, on which Italians voted by referendum against rule by monarchy and for  a republic and  banned any male members of the House of Savoy from ever setting foot on Italian ground. (The female members of the family, however, continue to be welcomed). Even with the perimeter lights of the neighbor’s agriturismo (Torre Prima)going full blast, making the neighborhood  look like a high security prison, the male fireflies are clearly visibly. This must be close to the height of mating season. They are so dense , flickering waist and chest and head high, that the entire garden glimmers like a 1960s disco dance hall. Their pulses are mysteriously synchronized in dynamic patterns: some pulse in unison, others in syncopation, still others flash on and off intermittently.

My sister set off across the lawn, dragging her feet through the tall grass and raised small clouds of sparks that put me in mind of a night thirty, maybe forty years ago on the Atlantic, in Greenwich, Connecticut, when my boyfriend and I and “Big” Linda and her brother (with whom I was casually flirting on the side) and some other friends strolled down to the sandy cove, and for the first time ever, I waded into the night surf. As I moved through the warm water, my feet trailed ribbons of phosphorescence. When waves crested and crashed, they churned up a chaos of bioluminescence. We swam in a marine constellation. My arms, parting the heavy water, sparkled with tiny lights. My hair glowed with  microscopic organisms. My eyelashes and eyebrows shone with a mysterious light. We were enchanted with the night, with the sparkles on our skin, with the sudden  power in our hands to ruffle the water and make it glow like the night sky.

All that flashed through my mind as I stood on the threshold of the garden, half listening to my sister issuing, for the sixth time, instructions for the care of my aged mother: cut back on the oil and butter, make early meals, simplify, don’t overdo activities, make sure she naps, get her to bed early, don’t tire her out, don’t upset her…

My sister has perfected the art of worrying, of being anxious and fearful almost to the point of paralysis. And certainly to the point of draining most of the joy from even the most common activity. Everything is beset with pitfalls, down sides, threats, excessive exertions of energy, potentially harmful consequences, potentially negative implications. I repeat the word “compassion” to myself over and over and over again, reminding myself that she, and not I, was the particular target of my father’s impatience and rage; that she, and not I, endured the trauma of 9-1-1; that she, not I, is exceedingly sensitive to loud noises, garish colors, sharp and spicy flavors, pungent smells, novel experiences, every possible type of technological implement from a blender to a computer. She is a whiz at reading maps, making money last, economizing, finding and extracting bargains, whipping up a hollandaise, psyching out cats, painting watercolors, anything involving visual judgment.

A forthnight ago I nearly wept with joy when I spotted my sister and mother coming down the corridor of the arrivals gate  at the airport in Florence. The anticipation, so long dragged out, erupted in joy when I saw my sister make her little butterfly wave in greeting. That was the moment of pure joy, the recouperation of that delight and total rapport that existed between us all the years of childhood and adolescence, until that difficult year when I left college and set off on my own stumbling way. Then came years of schooling apart, and boyfriends who stood in the way of our intimate confidences. I remember being appalled that there would be some Bob or Eric or who knows who with whom my sister would suddenly have more in common than she had with me. I suppose there was a sense of abandonment and loss, even though I was busy with settling for the wrong boyfriends, as daftly indiscriminating as a 1960s Communist tourist in a capitalist department store, blindly settling for whatever blouse or dress or coat my hand happened to grab, finding all equally acceptable as some sort of “place holders” for the real thing, for what Bunuel called “that obscure object of desire” whom I one day spotted, entirely by chance, when I had already blundered my way through one life-altering  tragedy, in front of Butler Library on a late spring afternoon. By then, too, I was already deeply “involved” with a talented but totally unsuitable young man from Long Island, the first in a series of inappropriate “Jeffs” who was besotted with me and consequently flattered my vanity and sense of female insecurity.

All this, of course, is another digression from the dance of the fireflies and my sister’s instructions, and my remorse at not showing her enough respect and patience. But, let’s be clear here, she does try my patience with her negative salvoes, and sarcasm and criticism. Most likely it’s my thin skin that’s most at fault here. I feel like that poor Saint Bartholomew (Marco D’Agrate 1562)  standing in the Duomo in Milan, flayed and holding his skin, or, more recently seen, the Red Marsyas (14-69 AD; copy of a Late Hellenistic original; on the subject commemorated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as the competition between Apollo and the Silenus, who dared to challenge the deity on Athena’s  double flute.Ovid truly drills into those disastrous competitions between mortal or demiurge artists and the gods, masks for the Emperor Augusts, self-declared divinity who — like subsequently Stalin and Mao Tse Tung and Kim Jong Il, etc — crush anyone whose talent and brilliance threatens to upstage them.

When the sky is so bright in early June, transparent and lit up with the reflection of the sun sinking into the sea beyond the line of the Appenines; with the moon rising and Venus reclining on the horizon decked out in bright light, a great emptiness fills my soul. In the distance, a young dog barks. The roar of the crowd at a soccer match swells and fades. The announcer whips up the spectators. His excited, baritone voice, amplified by the speakers, eggs the crowd on. A strange bird — or perhaps fox or rabbit — makes pleasant sounds. The turtle doves are settling down. All these sounds — including the exploding fireworks punctuated by the oohs and AAAA of the audience– tug at my soul which is trying to sneak off, somewhere, to be alone and give freee rein to the tears;


Another earthquake ripped through  Emilia Romagna. So many are homeless, terrified, injured, bereft. Many have died, broken and suffocated by buildings collapsing on them. May they find peace. The Earth is on the move. And as it moves, it is shaking us off, one community at a time.

From the hills tonight resounds the descant of dogs. One intones, the kennel in the valley counters in a higher pitch, back and forth, back and forth, sending cryptic messages into the night. The June moon fills out behind a veil of clouds. The  bellies of Botticelli’s Venus, Primavera, Madonna, and Judith swell.

Cloaks and veils billow, describing odd “M” shaped folds, curls, loops, and puzzling me with the secret messages of their sartorial calligraphy. What, if anything, did he, Sandro Botticelli mean by them?Surely an artist who troubled himself to depict 190 species of plants in a single painting, did not leave the architecture of folds completely up to whimsy!

On the drive back, there was a battering of recriminations for holding up the return by “luring” my sister into various shops and insisting on side trips. Responsibility for the delay in returning is being heaped squarely on my shoulders. Attempted engagement in professional plans of sister leads to more rebuffs, negative qualifiers, dismissive self-diagnoses, all of which finally pushes the tears out of my eyes.

Only hours later, when both mother and sister are asleep, the dishes put away, the fireflies basting their loose stitches of light in the night sky‚ does the dam finally collapse and the sorrow and grief held back so long, pressing — all along — against the inside of the spine… that dam breaks. Sorrow, unhampered, for the disappointments, humiliations, failures, and mistakes.



My  mother calls the four umbrellas that mark the perimeter of the pool – “the monks.” In fact, when they are closed and belted, they look exactly like tall, thin monks in hooded habits, facing east across the rolling hills. Instead of going to mass in the Duomo, I spent the morning “summering” the garden. I hauled out the lounge chair mattresses, the dozens of cushions, rolled the towels and put them in the large straw basket, folded lap robes and arranged the napping chaises for my mother and sister. Each of the umbrellas got a thorough shakedown to exile any insects that might have taken up residence since last fall.   There were only a few  dessicated corpses of wasps and spiders, nothing capable of producing terror. But the last umbrella had a surprise tucked away in one of the folds. When I gave it a shake, a small furry knob dropped out and,  landing on the pebbles poolside, spread silken wings for a split second.  I knew instantly that this was the same little bat — the flying mouse — that I had surprised last year at this time in the garden. It was just the same shade of walnut brown with a sheen to its short thick fur and a patent leather effect on its limbs. I picked it up with a paper towel and carefully carried it to the  cypress whose  trunk forks high enough above ground to keep the bat out of trouble. I gently laid the bat in the crotch. It hesitated for a moment, long enough to get its bearings and, I suspect, to rouse itself from deep sleep. Then it stretched out forearms, from which the wings unfold, and started hauling itself up the bark, one hand at a time,  grabbing the rough texture of the tree with finely articulated claws. Amazing how much it looked like a little human in a fur “chubby” with patent leather gloves and tight breeches!

One more swallow came into the world! I found the halves of a tiny egg beneath one of the seven nests under the eaves above the terrace. Last week’s courting couple finished its new nest – a McMansion sized construction of clay and twigs that makes the others look shabby by comparison.

The hoopie is back in the garden, utterly oblivious of the dogs and of me circling the magnificent roses with a squirt bottle of soapy water to forestall the onslaught of white flies. Such glorious roses this May: fat, petticoated blossoms in pink and white and yellow and orange and red, releasing waves of perfume to compete with the orange I’ve stationed at the foot of the stairs going up to my apartment so that coming and going I get a nosefull of pleasure! I recognize the hoopie by his arrogant strut, all about his handsome carriage and his elegant suit of feathers. Welcome back, hoopie!

And, once again, I have to eat my words. “No, there are no fireflies. It’s too early for them. The nights are still too cold.” “She’s right,” chimes in my mother.” We won’t see them for another two weeks, at least.” But we are both wrong and my sister’s right, darn it: the night sky is full of their dotted dashing and pulsing their desparate mating signals, and once again I have trouble telling where the earth ends and the star studded sky begins. Fireflies: fugitive photons on the make!

On our afternoon walk, we find ample evidence of boars in Maurizio’s and Giovanni’s vineyard. Large patches of grass dug up into deep trenches, surrounded by deep footprints and, here and there, a tidy construction of scat. My mother navigates boldly with her cane, ecstatic over the wind riffling the hills of wheat and wild oats and the meadows choked with poppies and daisies, artichokes and wild fennel, sweet pea, alfalfa, safflower, clover and dozens of plant species, each greedily snapping up photons in its particular chromatic window.

Night is an odd experience. I sleep in the room across the hall from my mother’s, keeping our doors open so that I can keep an ear out for what is going on with her. I hate it when the leg cramps come on and she moans in pain and I go to her to massage a special cream into her legs. I listen carefully when, two or three times in the course of a night, she struggles to sit up in bed and turns on the light and shuffles to the bathroom, and then wait anxiously, along with her  dog, until she comes back to bed, and her breathing returns to the slow, sonorous pace of deep sleep. I hear her moan in her sleep, and the dog bark in irritation as she turns. I am put back in mind to the months of my daughter’s infancy when I learned to sleep while awake, in that peculiarly oxymoronic form of sleep familiar to the mothers of young children and of teenagers.

The cuckoo’s call. The robin’s chatter. Turtle dove warbling. So much avian music in the air, and now, at night, a timid trill from the nightingale.

Today I cooked polenta with bolognese sauce, zucchini trifolatti, macedonia di frutta over datti di dama…

And I still puzzle about a friend’s remark, in response to my recent posts about my freshest strategies for dealing with my ex’s treatment of me, that I am “winning the war.” I hadn’t realized it was about “winning” or even that this is a “war.” And it’s neither, in fact, because it’s really not at all about one or the other of us “winning” and the other “losing,” since each of us does both. Nor is what goes on between us anything remotely resembling a war. Rather, it is one round after other of tedious negotiations carried on in the interest of eventual harmony and serenity.

power moves

Now that I’ve moved most of the Cymbalta out of my system, I am feeling the “pricks and arrows” of everyday life with an acuity that the drug  dulled and suppressed all these years. Feelings overwhelm me as they surge in from all sides, and I have to stand still, figuratively, to get my footing. Each time a wave of fear sweeps over me, I make myself stop and ask: what am I feeling? What just happened to connect to that feeling? What am I learning? What is my gut telling me?

This is a new routine for me.

What am I learning?

That my ex makes  power moves, and that I react by countering. I’ve tried to uncouple the reflexive mechanism that I’ve used all these years when I  address  his accusations and diagnoses with explanations, excuses, and accusations. Now I am trying out the Chinese martial arts technique of yielding to the energy flow of his blow and letting it spend itself harmlessly. I don’t know what the emotional and verbal equivalent of Kung Fu might be, or even if I have the right discipline in mind. So far what I’ve hit upon as a strategy is to thank him for his insights, admit to my shortcomings, and apologize for the distress they introduce into his life. The more I do this, the more sincere my remorse. I hope this is not just a passive aggressive move on my part. I am sick of being caught in the perpetual motion of punch/ counterpunch.

The lesson of Tuscan mud: she who walks in wet clay gets stuck.

Later that month….

Here’s what’s been going on in my body and soul the last fourteen days.

I came down with giardia, which I only just diagnosed.  For  ten days I blamed my detox regime for the  sluggishness and lack of appetite and the weird waves of the sort of euphoria that  accompanies the body’s being taken over by a virus. I suspect, without any scientific basis whatsoever, that the “high” I feel a few days before flu symptoms appear is  connected to the fiesta fever of  noxious microorganisms partying in the hospitable environment of my cells.  This time, though, the “high” presented as a heightened sensitivity to color and form, a sharpening of vision and an odd lexical alacrity. Words I hadn’t used in years, and certainly not in the context of Tuscan life, bubbled to the surface of perfectly banal conversations.

But detoxing couldn’t explain all the other symptoms.

The aha moment came on a walk with Ilona, the woman I’ve befriended who lives up the street, and whom I call  Diana-and-the-hounds, in honor of the two white German shepherd bitches she keeps by her side at all times. We stopped on  the dyke overlooking the lake chorusing with frogs. I had one of those body memory moments, when the cells bombard the cognitive part of the brain with the bulletin: you’ve had this metal-in-the-mouth, sand-papered-stomach, no-appetite, nausea, loose bowels, malaise, and chronic fatigue before, buster. Neahkahnie. 1990. Spring. AAAAH- HA! Giardia!

Thanks to the Giardia Club website <; , accurate diagnosis confirmed and re-confirmed a few minutes later by the Doc, who sent me to the farmacia with a prescription for a protozoacide. Not much progress  yet. The one good thing about giarida is that you lose weight rapidly, since you don’t feel like eating and everything you do get down goes straight into the hungry mouths of the little suckers lining your entire alimentary canal. I can just hear them munching and slurping down there. I’ve dropped 2 kilos in ten days. How’s that for swift slimmin’?

I’m a regular in the vivaio (nursery) across from PAM, where I’ve bought endless flats of geranium, daisies, lobelia, vegetables, etc.  There were no raspberry plants.  Instead lassooed a datura, misnamed, of course (it’s actually a brugmansia, but that distinction is evidently of rather recent vintage). I’ve always loved their extravagant and fragrant blooms, not realizing how very toxic — in various ways– are the parts of this plant. We’ll see how it does.


Postoffice closed through Wed morning, thanks to May 1st “ponte” holiday. “Ponte” or “bridge” refers to amplified holidays during which all of Italy is on the road, and all business are closed, thereby eliminating any rational motive for the massive migration of peoples. Cars circle endlessly until arrested by a snag in the traffic, at which point all exit  vehicles, unpack multi-course meals, and carry on — eating, drinking, arguing, and sleeping — as if in the privacy of their own homes. Tourists innocently park cars in seemingly permissible stretches of weed alongside country lanes and return from sightseeing, several hours later, to find their windshields plastered with pink fines. I am opting to stay put, holding out for late afternoon lull in rain to go for my customary ramble in the woods, groves, meadows, and dales, perchance to spot a shy deer, find a porcupine quill, and, god forbid, rouse a boar.


Stiff wind raking  pines,

heavy clouds, distant thunder,


dark patches multiplying on the flagstones,

lizard peering out of flowerpot, I am


sensing another life beginning.




I’ve been waiting for them to return, and today they’re back: the swallows of San Gimignano, darting impatiently from cypress to rafters, singing, conceptualizing their new nests. There’s also a full moon, and  a full-throated chorus of toads, and the vines are putting out their first leaves and the cuckoo is not yet back.

Life is sweet.