Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Strength and virtue - a good place to start again


I knew I sort of liked this guy. (And no, not for the obvious reasons.)

He's actually a lot like many of the people I grew up around. In the 70s, the hippie movement on the West Coast hadn't morphed into the solipsistic leftist political stuff it is today, and there was room in it for genuine masculinity, and the general gist of rejecting the Modernian lies about how we are supposed to live was still there.

I wish we could do something to make these kinds of people Catholic. We could do with some of this. It's not entirely gone, that old virile, pagan, filial piety, virtue. The kind that was Christianized in the early centuries and went on to build an entire civilization.

Yesterday Annamaria was telling me what sort of fertilizers to put on the tomatoes, and we were in the big garage under my flat where they keep all their contadini stuff. She pointed to a big round basket-y kind of thing hanging on the wall and asked if I knew what it was. In fact, there were two, hanging up together, one made of a big round wooden frame with one side closed in with metal mesh, about 5 feet in diameter; the other smaller made of wicker, looking like giant flour sieves. I said no, and she said, "My father the contadino used it when I was growing up." Then I realized.

I'd seen it on television and in the movies; it was for winnowing grain by hand, a winnowing fan.

You put the grain in the baskety thing, and on a breezy day, you toss it up in the air, and allow the wind to carry away the chaff while you catch the grain again, to throw it all up again, and again. People had been using them since the agricultural revolution began.

One generation away. Annamaria is probably old enough to be my mother, maybe in her early 70s. She dug out five rows of ground, three for her and two for me, to plant our tomatoes, zucchini, beans, peppers and melanzane. The rows are about ten meters long, and she did it by hand with a long handled iron mattock, a job I could not possibly have done myself.

They've given me a huge patch of land to do whatever I want with, and I'm a little overwhelmed. Frankly, I haven't been terribly strong, physically, since chemo, and after 15 years of sitting down to work, but I remember when I was 19 or so, redoing an entire garden alone one spring. A little house I'd rented with some friends hadn't been seen to in a couple of decades, and I took to it like a duck who'd never seen water before.

I rented an electric trimmer, and cut and pruned, and trimmed and dug and turned over beds that hadn't been dug in a long time. I found the old compost bed that someone had dumped an entire sack of potatoes into some time in the past and that had therefore become the potato bed, and produced the best potatoes I'd ever eaten before or since. I did carrots and beets and broccoli. I cut back the wilderness of Himalayan blackberries that had grown to fifteen feet deep, and of course - being roses - they loved the pruning so much they produced an enormous summer crop of berries. Someone had planted climbing white roses right next to the hedge and they had grown right into it, so when I trimmed the hedge I also pruned the roses, which then sprouted huge white blossoms all along its length. The pink clematis had turned into a huge tangled wall and I cut it down into an arch that became a mass of flowers in the summer.

That spring and summer in that little garden - that we lost again the following winter when the landlady sold the property to developers - will stand in my mind as one of the happiest periods of my life. I remember it in a kind of pink and green and golden glow. I'm not 19 anymore, but maybe we can do something like it again.

I've been here three weeks and it's been busybusybusy, so it only occurred to me the other day that there's a good chance here, perhaps even better than in Norcia (where flat land is hard to come by). Unlike the city, where rotting, corrupt Modernia is still reigning supreme in the last days of its wicked glory, here, only a few miles away, a much older kind of life is still lived, and remembered. I think Annamaria likes me because I so obviously value it, and so clearly want to live it myself (I think her daughter wasn't that interested). Even though our ability co communicate the details is still a bit limited, we've become friends because we both discovered a similar kind of soul, the same sort of priorities.

I've mostly finished organising the house. The books are all out of their boxes and arranged in the cases, and the oratory is set up. I sang Compline in it on Sunday night. The only thing that's missing now is someone to share it all with.

A bit of what will be the flower garden, with the oldest fig tree I've yet seen.

But I'm also happily anticipating the arrival of a friend from the US. (Note to self; order sofa-bed from Ikea.) She's a young lady who found that her ordinary life - with good, morally praiseworthy work, good, believing friends, a large and loving Catholic family - wasn't enough. She is thinking thoughts of bigger things, as you do, and her spiritual director suggested she come to Europe.

Annamaria's doves. In the big shed behind it are chickens and rabbits.

So I invited her to come to think them here, to stay and use my place as a home base to look for answers to her vocational yearnings, (there's no more centrally located place in Italy than Perugia.) and meanwhile, eat a lot of good Umbrian food and drink a lot of tea. There are monasteries on the continent where the Faith is preserved, though not many. And there are plenty of other things going on. She says it's a funny sort of urge, to leave where she is and come to Europe to look for something. How well I know that urge! Say a prayer that we can help her find what she's looking for. She will come in September.

San Fortunato, the church on the hill behind the house. 

Annamaria's chair in the orto, where she has a rest and a smoke and can just sit and look at the view.
Last night I went down to the bottom of the garden with a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the remaining wild chamomile to start drying. It grows very abundantly all over the place here, usually twined up together with the brilliant scarlet poppies that are just coming into bloom now in the fields and along the edges of the roads.

Her patch, and mine on the top right, which we planted the other night. 

The other night I took a bit of a stroll around as the sun was going down and the opening chords of our next stormfront was starting to really blow, and stood watching three kestrels wheeling and spinning and riding the wind like acrobats.

This weekend, I'm going to start building my flower beds, and I've got a bucket of seed packets and jars of wild seeds I'd collected from Norcia. We're a bit late in the season to start seeds but I don't mind.

The growing season here is very long. Who knows what we can grow here, given enough time.



Gerard Brady said...

That's impressive for a woman of her age. I hope you enjoy the results of your labours.

Anonymous said...

"Who knows what we can grow here, given enough time." Yes, and not just plants. Best wishes to your September visitor.


susan said...

well.....if that wasn't just a little bit of beautiful.

I've always very much enjoyed your writing....this is some of your best.

I've been wrestling MIGHTILY with all the ick now around and upon us...much temptation to despair. But you (and the weekend marathon Lord of the Rings trilogy watching) have kinda flinted a spark in the suffocating darkness. Maybe I can teach the Faith again...maybe I can pick up a mattock and start plowing a row...maybe I can take my eyes off the big horrifying picture, and focus my aging eyes on a small copse of souls plunked before me in the fall....their eyes glazed over, with wounded, guarded, bilious affects. Maybe I can do this, even with Mordor billowing gloom in the background....its wizard-in-white polyester belching coprophagious poison.

Maybe I should do this.

ALL the very best and Godspeed to you Miss Hilary...methinks you've found the right place to be ...right now.