i mean, seriously, friends - what happened to summer?! where has fall gone?! the last time i checked, it was labor day, and then i blinked and it was halloween, and i was having dinner with roy the night before i left the country for the soft light of italy. next, i was sitting out on "my" balcony one afternoon in cortona, during a long sunny lunch break to soak up the tuscan sun and jot down some random thoughts in the lovely little journal my sweet friend gerri newfry had made and (yes!) sent to me earlier in the (non existant) fall; tucked inside its pages are these little bits and pieces fr0m my journey - a wine label from the incredible hotel la badia (a restored abbey) outside of orvieto, where friend/student phyllis buck and i had stayed our very first night in italy, and a wrapping from, i'm thinking, perhaps a sandwich from the little market down in the cortona piazza.
i'd be remiss in what will be install- ments of ongoing tales of italian adventures without first sharing an image of dear phyllis from our lovely hotel room there at the abbey (or wait, maybe this was from our room at the castle the next night - yes - yes - the castle! don't i sound rotten?!). we had stopped at a little roadside grocery store, grateful that it was open there at dusk, and purchased some simple cheese, crusty bread, and the proverbial two bottles of wine. phyllis braved the insane italian highways and back roads, with me as her navigational co-pilot, god help her; and driving in italy is no easy feat. so you can imagine how unfathomably good that wine tasted as darkness fell and we finally found our castle at the end of a very winding gravel road. phyllis, i commend you! brava! she also did every last bit of research ahead of time to find our two nights' incredible lodging, where we were wined and dined and treated like queens.
our own highlight of this phase of the trip - our little sideline, the two days - for both of us, i believe, was a trip to the basilica of saint francis in assisi, where we visited his actual tomb. located three levels below the surface of the ground, it was an amazing, spiritual, moving experience that my own uneducated, simple words cannot convey. the energy could actually be felt, and i'm swearing that i could hear a low-pitched vibrating, humming sound there as well. the franciscan monks gliding silently about in their rough brown robes touched my aching heart, carrying baskets of long white candles where visitors had placed them to be lit. saint francis has always been a special man of history to me, with his gentle love of animals and unfailing work with the poor; if you've never seen zeffirelli's brother sun, sister moon, you've missed a beautiful and haunting film; i just watched it again night before last and found it even more moving the second time around, twenty four years later. a lovely story for thanksgiving, for any time really.
....and then, somehow, i woke up again and i was back at home here in north carolina, for two days, with unpacked delayed bags that arrived from frankfurt twelve hours before i rushed off again with the same bags to alabama for a week (i never unpacked, and - i am not kidding about this - from italy until this afternoon.) i travelled six hours south, to a place where the leaves were still on the trees, where the breeze rattled dry soft colors in the branches and made the spanish moss sway softly in the afternoons, where we sat around a table and acknowledged, then celebrated, all the things for which we give thanks. the table that you see there, at the top? it is my parents' table, with two separate leaves for extension; i snapped that photograph mid- thanksgiving morning as i was beginning to arrange decorations for the table. the light was streaming in those southern windows, just so, creating a bit of a hopeful rainbow prism that made me dash to grab the camera. i love this photograph, even without the colorful scattering of leaves i'd gathered up on the hill behind the house... the chairs that i've known and sat in all my life, the wainscoting, the light, the familial glow. foxwood, my parents' home, and still my home when i am there. and now, aspen's. he was there while i was in italy, stealing my parents' hearts; but oh, how happy was he to see me walk through that door. happy, and confused. what? you? here?! he seemed to say, but look at him, that first night, sneaking up onto my bed and snoozing while i was in the shower. daddy called him motormouth, and astro, and a series of other terms of endearment, but asks now every time we talk (every night) how "his little dog" is doing.
oh, daddy. he tells me five times a day, if not ten, how glad he is to have me there with him at home whenever i make that god awful six hour trek down. here he is, at foxwood's beautiful antique pine front door (can you see the small glimpse of the upstairs alcove stained glass from a house he tore down?), just after sweeping the front steps and walkway for thanksgiving guests soon to arrive. my mother was, as always, busily stirring and placing final touches in the (her) kitchen. i never seem to be able to capture her with the camera; she won't sit still, won't stay in one spot. daddy, on the other hand, has gotten far more cooperative in his later years when i point to the camera and simply tell him to smile. he obliges, and i know each time i look at these photographs as they come through from digital to computer (amazing, yes?) that i'll treasure the captured moments for the rest of my life.
here is daddy looking through a small leather photo album i assembled for them of shots from their north carolina cabin; my gift to daddy from italy was a beautiful hand-crafted brown leather version of an album with black pages and lovely rice paper between each page, and i spent several evenings of last week applying the photos with black scrapbook corners. he treasures that book, as you can see, and must have leafed through it twenty times. funny thing, how a simple photograph can capture a bittersweet emotion, the smell of woodsmoke in the air, the way the wind feels on a small log cabin porch that faces beautiful mountains, that houses so many memories. i'm telling you all, if you haven't taken a thousand photographs of your family - your children, your parents, your brothers, your sisters, do it now. they won't mind, if you don't fidget with the buttons overly long, if you don't promise not to do it again and again. take the photographs. take them. and if you don't have a digital camera at this point, for heaven's sake - go out and buy one as soon as you can.
i worried this thanks- giving, of course, about that quiet, empty spot at the table. the chair to my father's right, where my brother always sat. it was a full table this year, fuller than usual, so full that i had to go to the hall closet and pull out the two extra leaves. thank goodness. we all gathered naturally 'round the table, and my sweet nephew, called beej growing up but now a fine big young man going by his given name of ben - named for my brother - took that spot, and considered it an honor, he told me with watery eyes. bless him. he filled that vast, vacant space quite beautifully, without fanfare, and a lovely thanksgiving commenced. for what am i thankful? one simple word: life. life, and all the many blessings that it has given to me. here, then, are four of them.
i've not yet really even begun to talk about italy. it was so many, many things for me, for my students, for stacey. for the people of cortona we met and came to know. for the me who has yet to remember everything, to process what i saw, what i experienced, what i stored away in my heart and brought home with me. how to say? how to share? i want to do this for you, so badly, and time always seems to run away from me. this church here, for instance, in the beautiful orangish golden morning light: it was what i saw every. single. morning when i awoke in my cortona bed, and its bells were what roused me, swinging back and forth from the tall stone towers, first thing every morning at7 am. i want to tell you that there were cats that walked the rooftops, and sunned in the windowsills of that church, and a small chimney that always had smoke rising from its belly in the dark of an evening, just for me to smell, to see. i want to tell you about the nuns that sang like angels, about the splendid walk i shared with dear friend katie one long morning when we went up, up, up, past the stations of the cross, around winding gravel roads past silvery green olive trees to the magnificent church of santa margherita, where katie and i actually unknowingly ascended to the second story of a convent and back down again before we were vehemently scolded ("privato! privato!") with a wagging index finger by an non - habit wearing woman (and given a gentle smile by the nun in the habit. just goes to show, is all i'm saying). or, the trip with stacey to the beautiful local cemetery in the dark the last night i was in cortona. the italians grace their gravesites with the loveliest of touches - little flame lights, photographs of the loved ones, like shrines. (i won't even go into detail about the car getting stuck over stone steps at midnight on the way home that night). these stories and memories are allllllll coming back to me as i glance back to these photographs, and i want to include every one of the details here, if only for my own sake. i won't take the time, otherwise, to write the memories down. life just works out that way.
meanwhile, my beloved friend misty mawn is flying down on thursday from erie, pennsyvania to spend a long weekend with me. we are finnnally going to have some girlfriend time, when we can curl up on the sofa and laugh or cry, drink glasses of wine or tea, talk and talk and talk into the wee hours, listen to music and paint - she's promising to bring her paints and hammer (or not, knowing misty), and explore the surrounding hills and dales if we like, or not. we won't have classes to teach, people to meet, deadlines to keep (well, those will just have to wait a few days)......