Statuesque views, more or less, of the Montone countryside.
I’m part of Daily and Weekly Post
A caravan pulls up to our neighbor’s house and the music starts. Bells are ringing, people are singing and shouting joyous greetings. The house is lit up with all the outside lights (which is very special here since electricity is so expensive!) to welcome the local bandwagon of people, gifts, and good cheer.
This Christmas Eve mission? To visit each and every house in this tiny valley where someone (or more) is at least 80 years old. And there are a lot of them! At least 20 people out of a population of 100 or so.
I stand on the terrace and watch and listen. My heart fills with joy, I smile. And I think to myself, I want to still be here when I’m 80.
Merry Christmas to all.
As I wrote in “The Last Firefly”, the season continues to move on. And since both the lavender and fireflies are gone, I’ve said goodbye to that header photo and replaced it with a late summer one.
This summer has been beastly in Italy. Our hottest since 2003. We’re watching the crops dry up and die, animals that don’t normally come down this far into the valley are desperately searching for water, and we’re living like cave people inside our shuttered house every afternoon. I don’t dare venture out until early evening.
In spite of the intense heat this year, late summer brings its own beauty and gifts. Local garden ingredients for making Ratatouille and glazed apples for desert.
My basil looks like a forest this year as it laps up the sunlight and heat.
The fields are rolled, leaving tracks that look like waterfalls…I can’t get enough of this scene in our little valley.
The sunflowers enjoyed the heat a lot more than I did!
And the biggest gift of all: a second blooming of my white roses.
It’s mid-summer. The season is changing. I felt it this morning all of a sudden, a bit like seeing sheep on the hillside that don’t seem to move, but you look again and they’re in an entirely different spot.
But yes, of course. The sunflowers are drooping their poor heads and the wheat has been rolled.
The shadows are longer in the afternoons.
And this morning, our last firefly. I hope he had a good night, blinking his last blinks. I’m sure he sparkled for weeks, but his reason for being has been accomplished. Farewell little one. Summer moves on.
Every time I bring a friend up to Montone, I see new things through fresh eyes. Today, it was rooftops and chimneys and campaniles. Ogni volta che porto a Montone un’amica, vedo qualche cose con uno sguardo nuovo. Oggi ho visto tetti e camini e campanili.
And a few little odd friends that live in a beautiful, modern sculpture just outside the walls of Montone. E anche ci sono pochi piccoli amici strani che vivono nella bella scultura moderna appena fuori le mura di Montone.
I had the pleasure to spend the day in Montone with a fellow blogger and new friend. Janine writes the blog Destination Umbria and her passion for Umbria, especially Perugia, is shown beautifully through her own photographs. I hope she realizes her dream of living here one day.
Ho avuto il piacere di trascorrere la giornata a Montone con un altra blogger e un’amica nuova. Janine scrive il blog Destination Umbria e la sua passione per Umbria, specialmente Perugia, e’ mostrata in bel modo attraverso le sue foto. Spero che realizza il suo sogno di vivere qui un giorno.
Below are more treasures that Montone gave us today.
Sotto ci sono piu’ tesori che oggi ci ha dato Montone.
(Ai miei amici italiani — scusatemi tanto per l’italiano…non scrivo abbastanza in questi giorni!)
So far away.
Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?
It would be so fine to see your face at my door.
Doesn’t help to know you’re just time away…
-Carole King, Tapestry, 1971.
One of the hardest things (perhaps really the only hard thing) about living in Italy is that we’re so far away from our loved ones. I wouldn’t trade living in Italy for anything else, and yet… If only we could beam everyone here for the weekend!
At night, when I go out on the terrace to hear the footfalls of the deer in the fields, the night birds, the rain, or look at the moon, I think of our family in the U.S., our friends, my mom. So many things I want to tell her about, but alas, I can’t. At least not in reality. I can still tell her about the music we’ve just listened to, which she would love. Or the full moon–her passion. Or something our little Olinka did today, like climbing the olive tree.
When one lives as an outsider in a foreign country, it takes courage to keep the spirits up, to make new friends, to keep appreciating the amazing things one has. At least we made the choice to live here. The thought of the millions of refugees around the world who have been tossed out of their homelands because of tyrannical governments, religion, slave-trade, or war…well, it’s just impossible to fathom their cruel fate.
So, the moment of sadness passes, the thankfulness we feel for our lives returns, and the good memories dance in my mind. They warm the heart. They make it all worthwhile being so far away.
It’s the small things one notices, and then the certainty. The season has changed. Spring is here, but it’s only just awakening.
Beginnings ripple throughout the countryside and suddenly there is color and sound and flight where there had been darkness and snow. I wonder if plants do have a secret life, secret from humans, that is. I just bet, when they’re flowering and leafing, they feel as excited as we do during our own awakenings.
I took a walk with a bee this morning. No kidding. I had gone down to the creek for my morning walk, and on the way back I started collecting sticks from the forest floor. They’re the best kindling for our fires as they’ve fallen naturally from the trees and have gathered lichen–great material for a fire starter.
So there I was, walking along holding my sticks, and I realized I had been hearing a buzzing sound for a few minutes. I looked down and sure enough, a brown, fuzzy bee was kind of hopping along just in front of my feet. The forest floor is oozing with moss and other strange mucky things from the recent rains, and it’s producing some beautiful white and purple flowers.
This little bee was ecstatic, jumping from one oozy mess to the next, then to the flowers, then back to the tips of my boots. She stayed with me for about 100 meters. Once in awhile I got ahead of her as she fell, intoxicated, into another patch of flowers. Then, she was back, hopping on my boot.
A breeze funneled down the path, whispering through the trees and making the world around me shiver. We reached the fork in the path, and I looked down just as she took off from my boot. We went our separate ways.
As I walked back up the hill toward our house, I thought, huh, I just took a walk with a bee. Well, it’s spring. Stranger things can happen I suppose. When I rounded the corner, I said, yep.
So, it’s a bit cold in Italy right now. And why not? It’s February! I look out my window at the white valley, listen to the tramontana (north wind) howling, watch the snow swirls. It’s beautiful.
We’re snowed in and probably will be for 4-5 days, but we’re warm and cozy with plenty of fire wood and provisions. We were expecting this storm and stocked up the morning before it hit hard. It’s a little inconvenient that we can’t get out of our valley, but as long as we stay healthy, we’ll be fine.
Being snowed in, I took this opportunity to hike over to our neighbor’s house. I don’t visit them nearly enough and the two matriarchs of family are now in their early 80s. Their husbands are long gone, two of their grown children own half of the house, the other children, grand-children and great-granchildren have moved to various cities. They don’t want any part of the farming life that this family has endured for over 100 years.
We talked about the weather, of course, as we sat by the crackling fire in the kitchen, sipping their Vin Santo. The older sister had just come in from the garage and said with an embarrassed smile that she had just put her laundry in the dryer. The dryer! She smacked her forehead. She cannot believe what she has now: a washer and dryer, an electric garage door, heat, running water, electricity, the Internet for her grand-daughter, freezers, walls that don’t let in any air. They live in a modern house now on their property, their old stone farmhouse having been destroyed in the earthquake in 1985.
Then the stories started. Memories of past winters, their diga freezing and not being able to haul water, farm animals freezing to death, no running water, no electricity, no heat. They told these stories with hilarity, shrugs of shoulders, “what can you do…that’s the way it was”, isn’t our life completely different now…
And then came the story of the winter of 1944. Their husbands and brothers and sons were fighting the Germans as they rampaged their way through Umbria. They didn’t know if their loved ones were still alive–so many men had already died during the war. When the Germans approached Umbertide and the surrounding hills, most of the women of Montone had to flee to the hills.
It was a winter worse than today and it lasted for nearly three months. They hid in the mountains between Montone and Pietralunga for five months. They hauled what wood and water they could find, they slept under thin blankets in old stone hovels, they killed small birds and rabbits with stones to roast over their open fires, risking being discovered by the Germans. One woman gave birth to a little girl; she didn’t make it, she died a week later.
April 1944 brought the bombing of Umbertide, a sad mistake on the allies’ part. In June, the British troops, including the Indian 10th Infantry Division, arrived in Umbertide and liberated it. Fierce fighting continued in the surrounding hills, and Montone was finally liberated on 6-7 July with the British troops and the Italian Partisans engaging in fierce fighting against the Germans. Hand-to-hand combat, house-to-house searches, 20 Germans killed and 85 prisoners taken.
The women of Montone descended the hills on 8 July to be reunited with their village. My two grand dame neighbors returned to their farmhouse and land to rebuild their lives. Not many husbands of Montone returned; there was tremendous loss of life. But they looked forward to the warmth of summer, water in the diga, an actual kitchen in which to make pasta, a patch of garden to grow their beloved tomatoes and other vegetables, and above all, a fireplace that would be safe from enemy eyes for future winters.
It was time for me to go. The wind chilled me to the bone as I trudged up the 300 meters across the fields to our house. I was freezing…and then I stopped dead in my tracks. Freezing? In a down jacket with a fur hood? Snow boots with furry insides? Coming home to a house with radiators, a wonderful stufa, lights, rugs, eider down quilts, three incredible kitties, a loving husband. Freezing? Right.
I’m not a big sunflower fan, but for some reason this summer, the sunflowers have crept into my life. Maybe because every field around us for miles is covered with them. They’re obviously the crop of choice this year for the Molino. So I decided to make friends with them; they’re such happy kids when they’re in first bloom. Together with the wheat rolls this year (very new technology for our little valley–the farmers around here have always done the traditional rectangles…kind of sad to see the old ways go), the land seems to be begging for photos. Was happy to oblige.