Posts Tagged ‘Bramasole’

In Primavera

April 24th, 2016

This photo, taken from the car window as we zoomed across the valley toward Cortona shows how green it already was here at the end of March. The house is one of the Leopoldini structures built in the 1700s to house farm families. With all the mania for restoration, I’ve never understood why these places haven’t been scooped up. People used to say it was because it is too hot in the valley in summer and too foggy in the winter but now that houses are insulated, heated, and cooled, this no longer explains. Arriving at Bramasole, I found my hillside of double daffodils almost over, and the white haze of wild hawthorne already turning out leaves.

Market day in nearby Camucia is Thursday and even though I was barely here, I headed down hill my first morning. The very first piece I ever wrote about the Cortona area was this market. Little has changed. People still come in from the surrounding villages, the men stand in groups talking while the women shop, the stalls spread over several winding blocks. This is an intact aspect of ancient life in Tuscany. Towns still have their market days and though the goods may have changed aspect, there’s still food, seeds, live poultry, clothes, shoes, and housewares. You can find a stylish handbag, I promise. I buy socks, dishtowels, cut flowers, and always a peper-wrapped packet of porchetta, the so-savory roasted pig lying on a chopping board. Everyone has a favorite stand. I have a favorite cheese stand too, though I buy vegetables and fruit all over.  Why I rushed there my first day back is that I knew that artichoke season is in full swing. Trucks arrive from the south and the artichokes are firm, fresh, and so cheap.

 These are the big ones. The ones I choose are the small, violet ones to trim, steam, and simply dress with a little lemon juice and our very excellent olive oil. Then you can eat ten! The citrus is a gift to the eye. We look for the juicy Tarocco, plus clementines that Ed eats several times a day. I’m sadly allergic to orange juice but I like a blue bowl of these in the house at all times.

Below, a lovely sight in spring–raw green almonds to crunch into. I think they’re an acquired taste–strong almond flavor but with an acrid little bite too.  They are definitely part of the spring foraging scene. So pretty the soft green with hints of lavender.

 

Bramasole always has been a haven for writing. This visit I am focused on Paper Doors (tentative title), the novel I started in the fall. Ed is writing a poem a day. Each one, he says, is a map of the unconscious without trying to filter through the conscious. Okay! He disappears into his study after breakfast and the door is closed until eleven or so. My habits are erratic and right now it turns out that the best writing time for me is 5-8 p.m. Fortunately for me, Ed loves to cook in the new kitchen and has been the chef almost every night. Our new stove has an oven rotisserie. Our old stove had one too but we never bothered to learn to use it. Now we are loving the pork roasts and plump chickens that are just totally easy. We are into easy this trip. We can buy fresh peas just shelled and they are such a short season treat that we have them several times a week, along with Ed’s favorite spring vegetable, agretti, which looks like a cross between chives and long grass. Just look at it and you know you’re absorbing vitamins. Artichokes, of course. The tiny ones are good raw, very thinly sliced with slivers of parmigiano and olive oil. Oh, before I forget, Bramasole Olive Oil won a gold medal at the big NY International Olive Oil Competition. We’ve won four years in a row. (Check out the oil at thetuscansun.com)

A very quick dinner, because we can get excellent veal scallopine here–saute (I can’t get the accent to work) some spring onions gently in olive oil until softened, slice 15-20 cherry tomatoes and add to the onions. Remove to a bowl and add a little more oil to the pan. Flour four veal scallopine and brown quickly on both sides. The flour becomes a bit crispy. Cooks quickly. Stir in the tomatoes and onions, squeeze in the juice of a lemon, tiny splash of white wine. Heat through quickly, sprinkle with parmigiano and bread crumbs. Done! Very good. We do the same with chicken tenders. I love fast food! This kind anyway.

With the work over, it’s easy to settle in and enjoy glorious April. I hold off for two weeks before I begin to plant. Weather can still turn on us. But by the 18th, I can resist no longer. The lemons are brought out of their limonaia, the room where they winter over, and trips to the garden centers begin. Last year we had trouble with wind blowing over the lemon pots, heavy as they are. We had the stonemasons make square bases, scored with a cross for drainage. They were so heavy that they were hoisted up by a crane, lowered with much ado, and cemented onto the ground for stability. Oh, what we do for lemons! We had to build a ramp so they could be maneuvered down two steps. But in place, eight laden trees light up the walkway to the house and allow me to thrust a bag of lemons onto everyone who comes over. We have other citrus scattered around, an orange tree, a kumquat, a cedro. Turning them in for winter, bringing them out in spring–those are the markers that begin and end the lovely seasons.

  

A few reading and traveling recommendations:

We frequently rent houses or apartments because we travel a lot with our grandson. Since he arises at five, a hotel room is not the best option. For me it’s not fun to look at hundreds of listings, so I was happy to find carefully chosen properties in all price ranges at  www.commendablerentals.com   Through them, we’re renting a place in Puglia with friends. I’m keeping this one bookmarked.  We’ve also had good luck with www.RomeLofts.com   For hotels, too, I don’t enjoy TripAdvisor popping up with a jillion undiscriminated choices. I go to tablethotels.com or to mr.&mrs.smith.com. Tablet has email updates on hotels around the world and I enjoy their descriptions. 

Since I’ve been chained to my desk, I haven’t read as much as usual this trip but I have enjoyed the short stories of Charles Baxter, A Relative Stranger. Every morning with cappuccino, I’ve been reading the poems of Greek poet George Seferis. Those Greeks–always mythic and stony and salty. Totally opposite the loopy Irish world of Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light. The writing here is so lyrical and heightened that I read passages several times. The narrative interested me less than the use of language. Two other widely praised novels I read were just so packed with useless detail (she opened the car door and swung out her legs, stood up and walked across the cracked sidewalk… that sort of thing) that I slogged through without much pleasure. No need to name them but they provided a caution for me in my own efforts! I most highly recommend the memoir Dimestore by the wonderful Lee Smith. It’s a book to buy and give to friends. On walks I’ve been listening to Sweet Tooth by Ian Mc Ewan. You have to choose audible books carefully and this is one I would have preferred in print. The discursiveness of it wsouldn’t have bothered me on the page because I could read fast or skim slow parts. The narrator has a lovely reading style but listening has been very drawn out. As always, I’d love to hear of good books from you!

Happy May!

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Living Again at Bramasole

July 29th, 2015

29 July, from Bramasole

As readers of See You in the Piazza know, Bramasole has been under intense renovation for almost two years. I think it cost me two books. Ed has flown over so often that flight attendants recognize him and even a customs officer at the Rome airport.  Serious work! Much of it invisible–insulation, electrical, solar, heating upgrades, all the no-fun stuff. But much is visible.  I am posting some photos, hoping that you might get a flash of inspiration from them.  The destroyed–completely–garden is looking good. We decided not to replicate what we had but to try a new design. I may go back to some of the old ideas next year.  What was the Rose Walk is now rather formal. Our lemon trees line one side and balance the boxwood hedge on the other side. The hedge and five topiary boxwood trees are a remnant of the long lost formal garden from years ago. Trying to reduce grass, we made a river-pebble walk with a mid-point circle for an old olive oil jar. In a fierce wind storm in March, we lost our jasmine arches. For now, we’re leaving the stairs open.

The olive oil centerpoint is easy to accomplish. I built up the soil to raise the jar, then planted a circle of dwarf boxwood, some ivy here and there, and then tucked in low flowers that have bloomed all summer. That’s gaura falling into the picture.

The area we call The Lime Tree Bower used to be grass–scraggly under the linden trees–but always our shady respite in summer. It’s now pebbles, too, with comfortable outdoor furniture and a big stone topped table. My old yellow wooden table finally succumbed to age, and was not helped by a worker spilling a gallon of black creosote on it. I found this old iron table base and had the stone top cut to seat twelve. Handy to have it a bit wide so that two can sit at either end. I picked up the beautiful green wine demijohns beside the trash pick up and cut off the old woven straw basket full of insects and dust. To clean them of dregs and dirt, our gardener told me to put a handful of pebbles inside, add soapy water and whirl it around. Not easy. The globe is big and slippery. I broke one but did okay with the others.  They reflect the landscape and cast lovely green shadows. All along the back of this terrace, there’s a stone wall and a hedge of  hydrangeas.

The living room floor had to be ripped out because of moisture problems. We also removed a staircase, which gave a little more room. Then the room was replastered and we painted the beams white. We were able to find old cotto bricks to replace the original ones. I had the furniture made by a local craftsman. The room is my museum of treasures gathered over the many years I’ve wandered around antique markets. I contemplated painting the room a light chalky blue but finally decided to leave it white because it reminds me of small Greek churches I saw in the Mani. 

 

Maybe the household gods do reside in the details:

 

The very best prize of the restoration–a new kitchen! Perfect for two cooks. Ed has his sink and I have mine, both cut from single pieces of marble. The room ends with a glass half-octagon that allows us a view of the hills and valley at all times of day. It’s especially lovely when it’s raining. The new kitchen was the old limonaia at the side and back of the house and we broke through the former kitchen to join it. The pendant lights were made in Murano at Schiavon Vetreria Artistica. The floor (heated underneath)  is old brick cotto. The metal table is new but looks as if James Joyce might have sat there sipping absinthe.  The antique platters I found in Taormina. For over a decade they lay in a chest of drawers, just waiting for the right moment to be displayed.  The Ilve stove is dark, marine blue. We are lucky to have found marble we love and a great marmista who fitted everything beautifully. The new connection:

 

 

Here are a couple of detail shots:

We were able to squeeze in a tiny half bath at the back of the kitchen. I couldn’t find a sink for the small space.  La marmista to the rescue. I love this little sculptural work of art! Brancusi could wash his hands here. We mounted it on a slab of pietra serena stone.

But isn’t the light switch ugly! Devil in the details!

Many things are the same:

But we are living in a new way in the house we’ve lived in for twenty-five years. Worth the time and money and stress? Yes!

Would love to hear comments and suggestions!

More later on good books of the summer and some great travel recommendations. We have been lots of places with our grandson, who is a super traveler. This year he discovered tasting menus and had many surprises. A very packed summer. Now I’m hoping for a calm August and time, time, time to write.

Hope your summer, too, has been full of good surprises!

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Discreet Charms of Winter

February 18th, 2014

We’re taking two winter trips to Cortona this year. Restoration at Bramasole keeps raging on, and I admit that I keep adding projects, such as a half-moon fountain against a tall stone wall. I bought a stone lion face years ago, and now he’ll reign over the new fountain with a little copper tube from his mouth spilling water. I dwell on this point of possible beauty because the rest of the place is a muddy zone with so many trenches that it looks like ancient warfare.

At least the crane is gone. Progress!  On our January trip, this is how we spent many days:

Valter, the architect (in the middle), is a hands-on, droll, and resourceful person who keeps us calm. He’s there several times a week, paying attention to the minute details.  Sergio, second from right, is the builder. We huddled many mornings in the rain to review the work. What IS Ed laughing about? That ganglia of tubes  mystifies me.  What they’re standing on is the new marciapiedi, made from old stones Sergio found in a crumbling barn. This walkway seals the bottom of the house and will prevent moisture from seeping up the walls. The facade is all restored except for the bottom part. They are waiting on that until the marciapiedi was laid and everything has a chance to dry. With the rain we had while we were there, when might that might happen?  

Mud is a pretty good word, but the Italian word fango sounds more like what you see above.  This looks like a BEFORE picture, but actually, it’s AFTER. As you may recall from previous posts, this is what the front garden looked like before:

In spring, we’ll put down new grass, pull the lemons trees out of the limonaia, plant big pots with spilling geraniums, and hope that it returns to its former beauty.

When we were not knee-deep in mud, we were, of course, eating. Most restaurants are closed during January but the ones that remain open seem especially cosy and jolly. And, ah, the winter food! Polenta with mushrooms and sausage–as in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, and what we loved at the tiny trattoria Fettunta–polenta baked with tallegio in the oven. At Bar Tuscher, where we had many lunches, they make lasagne with a twist. The tender layers of pasta and ragù are served on a little pool of béchamel, rather than the béchamel being incorporated into the ragù layers. I loved this idea because the lasagne seemed lighter and the flavors more nuanced.  At home, we savored the big pork roasts, pasta with wild boar, and the marvelous thick soup, ribollita.  We managed only one party and for that Gilda made zeppole.

Fried bread, but so light. Usually they’re sweet and sprinkled with powered sugar but for the antipasto course, she served these as savories. Some with cheese stirred in, some with anchovies. Recipe? “There is no recipe, you just make them.” Next time, I’ll try to write down how, exactly, they’re done. I looked for recipes on line and didn’t find anything similar. If anyone reading this has a recipe, let me know!

We have not been in Italy in winter in several years. The streets shine in the rain, shop owners cover the windows with newspaper while they spruce up their walls or rearrange, one lone man leans into a doorway out of the rain. He’s gazing out at the empty piazza and I think he could have been there for a thousand Januarys.

Tourists? There’s one, an American from Michigan, and he’s in Bar Tuscher every day. I think he’s learning Italian very fast because, in this season, everyone wants to talk. Last seen, he was holding court with several policemen and they were enjoying an afternoon prosecco. Such are the charms of winter–an intimacy, a privacy with a place, bright faces in the rain, that second bottle of wine you share with a neighboring table where you’ve just met a couple down for the weekend from Torino. An icy wind whips down from the Alps and smells like snow. Spontaneous waterfalls in the woods surprise you on long tramps in rubber boots.  

 

We spent many evenings by the fire with dinner on trays, and books. I adored Elena Ferrante’s  My Brilliant Friend and the sequel, The Story of a New Name. We roasted chestnuts and opened our neighbor’s nutty vinsanto. I like to step outside late, just to shiver a little and hear the owls calling. What winter has is time. The nights are long and after the rain, the stars are clear and close.

 

 

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When Lemon Trees Flew

December 9th, 2013

Just before the first hard frost, all the potted lemons that dazzle our garden must be moved into the limonaia, a glass-fronted room where they spend the winter in sunlight but protected.  Because of the scaffolding around Bramasole, the passage from the  front of the house, where they all reside, to the limonaia was partially blocked–not enough room for the specially-made lemon cart to pass.  Don’t worry about any Italian crisis, they are the most inventive people on earth!  We arrive to find the gardener loading a tree onto a pallet.

 

 

Then we notice that the pallet is attached to the crane, which has been used to haul up roof tiles during the restoration.  NO!  Lift off!

 

Soon, the pot is flying across the garden. Up, Up! “Where’s Fellini now that we need him?” I ask the gardener who has devised this unlikely scene. How surreal on this foggy morning. “Magic realism!” Ed says. A few tourists in the road below are laughing and applauding. Our neighbor stops his motorcycle and shakes his head.  Crazy Americans!  But we didn’t think of it!  Soon the pot is soaring.

Then it comes safely to rest near the limonaia. They repeat this fifteen times.  Not a mishap. I was imagining a lemon tree falling from the sky!

Before they’re muscled into the lemonaia–these pots weigh a lot–I harvest all the ripe lemons, then the pots are crowded in together. Each pot has a mark on it to show that spot faces the sun.  All winter, you can slip in among the pots and find a lemon, smell the tight aromatic blossoms, and feel your hair curl from the humidity generated by so many leaves. Fabio, the man with the red glove is just SO good. What a bold idea!

The lemon may be my favorite ingredient in the kitchen.  For the quickest pasta, I love the crab and lemon spaghetti (page 85) in THE TUSCAN SUN COOKBOOK. It’s light and unusual, as good a choice for a first course at an elaborate dinner as for an instant family meal. For the holidays, I suggest the lemon cake (page 210), a family favorite and I’ve made it a million times.  It’s a lovely gift, as is a jar of seasoned salt (page 24) with a half of a lemon blended into it.

Someone just gave me a jar of their persimmon and five spice marmalade and I will serve it with some aged pecorino.  The homemade gifts are the best.  They just have a lot more heart than those acquired by “proceed to checkout.”  I would love to hear what you’re giving from your house.  I just took a pan of pecans out of the oven.  The easiest gift imaginable: Arrange a pound of this season’s pecans in a single layer on a baking pan. Dot with a stick of butter, and sprinkle with salt.  Roast at 350 for five minutes, watching them every minute, and turning them over twice to coat them with butter.  Nothing is easier to burn than nuts.  Marvelous to serve with drinks, along with some cheese straws.  I think most people have one thing they find irresistible during the holidays. Mine has, since childhood, remained roasted pecans. Maybe it’s because I was made to pick up the nuts in our back yard, and to help shell them. At least there was a big reward.  Let me know what you’re finding irresistible!

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Bramasole under Wraps!

October 1st, 2013

The long-delayed decision to begin another chapter of restoration at Bramasole happened one afternoon this summer when I was writing in my third-floor study. A sudden storm came up the valley with big gusts of rain, and soon a trickle of water streamed upon my head.  That was enough. We’d patched leaks before but with an almost three-hundred-year old roof, surely the guarantee expired a couple of centuries ago. We dreaded the time, expense, and supervision details, and of course we knew that other problems would appear.  How right we were. But, we are in it full steam. Ed is there now, calling every day for two hours of consultation on where to move what electrical box, and whether to rebuild a defunct chimney, and how to vent the heating. On and on!

The crane is big enough to build a skyscraper. Another larger crane had to hoist it onto the Rose Walk terrace, which then had to have cement platforms reinforced with rods going down to bedrock. You can see what it has done to my garden. You can’t see the favorite blue hydrangea bush and hazelnut tree that had to be sacrificed. Or the broken irrigation…. 

I guess the cloth keeps the men from looking down!  The old tiles will be somewhat cleaned and will go right back on the roof. In the end, the house will look like it always looked but I will be able to stay dry in my study, and with insulation, our house will be warmer in winter. Still, it’s kind of like getting a new washing machine vs. getting a new painting or sofa.

Inside, we decided to replace a badly modernized bathroom ceiling that we’d happily ignored for twenty three years. When the pile of rubble is removed, I hope not to see cracked tile.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, I take heart from this photo Ed just sent. The Bramasole rose, my treasured one, peers out from the scaffolding, sending me a message that it will survive.

 

 

 

 

Next week I will be there, right in the fray.

Meanwhile the land is happy. The fig trees are laden and Ed reports that the olive yield this year will exceed the last five years. We love this fall season in Italy. The harvest connects to the very oldest agricultural rituals in the Mediterranean. Nothing compares with that first taste of the freshest oil! And it’s the season of mushroom hunting, big soups, and long tramps on Roman roads. The skies are moody gray or brilliant blue. I’m anticipating pulling on my boots and spreading the nets under the trees, big panini at mid-day, and the satisfaction of counting those crates at the end of the day. More from there!

 

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Books at Bramasole

October 17th, 2012

Ciao to my blog friends!  Back at Bramasole, I am working on my memoir about growing up in the South, and the long return to it from California. I wrote my novel, SWAN, from my third floor study here as well. Odd to write about a place at great remove in time and place from my perch in Tuscany, but Bramasole always has been a peaceful and inspiring place to work. Works of memory need no locale and may even feel freer in detachment.

My study windows face south and east. Since both are usually open, butterflies can flit in one and out the other. Once, a bird zoomed through.

Thrilled with the idea of settling in here for a month of good work, I decided, before putting pen to paper, to record my waiting work space, and our books, which we roam through constantly.  My desk:

When the writer, Ann Cornelisen, to whom I dedicated Under the Tuscan Sun, left Italy for good. She gave me many pieces of furniture from her house in Cortona. I was especially honored with the gift of her bookcase. It still hold several of Ann’s books.  If you’ve never read her Torregreca or Women of the Shadows, please do. She was a rigorous, austere person, and a fine prose stylist. This bookcase holds mainly my books about places. The meandering vine around the room was painted by a local artist and includes Bramasole wild flowers, birds, and butterflies. I’m enamored with the old jewel-green demijohns that used to store home-made wine. Many have I found at dumpsters when we take out the trash. Sometimes they still have the straw covering but usually it’s so ratty that I cut it off. The bottles stand around in the garden and house. My friend Donatella has dozens around her garden.  The painting of Bramasole was given to me by a Hungarian reader of my books. The other drawing is of our stone sink by a friend who stayed here. The basket is full of other drawings and watercolors that strangers have left for me–sweet gifts. 

When looking at houses with real estate agents through the years, I’ve always noticed how many houses have no bookshelves. “Where are their books?” we’ve wondered. To me, books are the spirit’s furniture and without them a house is sad. When we moved in NC, I had a few second thoughts. Unpacking 150 boxes of them, taking the history to the sunporch, the poetry to the living room, the art here, the fiction there, I began to think I should weed out those I’ll never read again. But I did that the last time I moved and regretted it later. So, place of pride for the books!

Below, nonfiction in our bedroom. The shapes above are ex-votoes I’ve collected. I’ve tried to find every part of the body someone has prayed for, or has received grace from. Overall, I’d say most prayed for foot and leg problems. The photo is of Ed’s mother.

Next, poetry and reference bookcase. The medallion honors the millions of lizards who have crawled over the walls of our house, who have darted into the shady interior and out again:

Twin to the bookcase above, this one holds books by Italian authors and books about Italy. Both were made in a workshop in Sansepolcro, where Piero della Francesca lived and painted. It’s so important how the artisan traditions endure. We drew a design and three weeks later picked up these bookcases that have been such a joy for our home. I love bees; the medallion in the middle is a big bee, with a background landscape.

Above, some foreign editions of my books. The painting by Amy Lumpkin Bertocci shows a book of Ed’s poems lying open with wine spilled on it.

The art books, mostly, in the living room; this bookcase, too, was made to my design:

Here below, fiction, which keeps overflowing. Three friends here constantly swap books. We talk about a book club but never seem to be in the same place at the same time long enough to plan a meeting. The photographs are old Italian ones. I made an ancestors wall, an imagined family that might have lived at Bramasole. The photo on the lower right, however, is my daughter.

 

Cookbooks are stored in the cantina, once a rabbit hutch. When we restored the house, a horse stall (once a chapel) became the kitchen and the adjoining hutch became our life-saving storage room. The sideboard is the Arezzo Sideboard from my furniture collection, At Home in Tuscany with Drexel Heritage. It was the first antique we found to adapt to our collection. Too big for Bramasole’s small rooms, it’s wedged into the cantina and holds a pantry’s worth of supplies. The cookbooks mainly gather dust. Like the Tuscans, I’ve absorbed the traditional canon by now and usually improvise around it. Baking is different–you have to be somewhat exact to bake. Maybe that’s why  many Italians don’t do it. Like their ancestors, they rely on the town’s bakers for sweets. There are many delicious exceptions, of course, and we captured them in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. Our house mascot, the boar in sunglasses, presides over the wine storage. The bit of flat woven basket on the right was made for drying figs and other fruit.

 

As you see, books strongly influence the way I put rooms together. I’m especially fond of making still life arrangements. Yes, books as objects, which can be objectionable to some –but I don’t adhere to that. I read them all!  And sometimes honor their presence by making them more visible.The painting on the left is one of the finest I’ve found at the antique markets, and I found the frame separately. Who is the artist? Does he deserve to be in a museum? I think so. The other gentleman simply looks upstanding and good, and I’m happy to greet him every day.

 

 

 Above, kid gloves, like ones I wore as a teen-ager in Georgia. Primitive religious paintings found in Spain and Italy, kitschy angel for Christmas, plus prayer cards picked up in churches. A rock I found on the beach in Turkey–a perfect full moon. And some favorite writers–among them Barry Hannah.

Speaking of books—I’ve read a few since I arrived. I especially enjoyed  A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively. She ties aspects of her family home and its possessions to the social changes in England in the past century. Very smart and original book. This is the only one I read on the iPad. I just know some night I’ll drift off and it will crash to the floor. Not a problems with paperbacks.

I was enchanted by The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a novel inspired by a Russian folk tale. Her evocation of the Alaskan wilderness is wondrous. I couldn’t put The Postmistress down. Sarah Blake writes of three women in the World War II era who experience colliding destinies. I liked the book very much, but I do wish, in all the darkness and death, that she’d at least allowed the postmistress’s lover to live. Some of my reading is directed by what books our guests leave behind when their suitcases are stuffed with Italian pottery and great new shoes. The Midwives by Chris Bohjalian was one of those. I was caught up in the birth descriptions and somewhat by the characters, but came down on the side of those who think a hospital is an all-around good choice, especially if your midwife doesn’t consult the weather report for extreme storms so you can’t get to the hospital. That was a snag for me and I lost sympathy.

Harrowing and unforgettable: A Train in Winter. A man visiting Cortona left it for me in the wine store, with a note saying I had to read it. I’d read and enjoyed Caroline Moorhead’s biographies before. This epic saga recounts the lives of French women resistance fighters, who for their minor crimes against the German occupation were shipped off to Auschwitz, then Ravensbrück. The grim, gruesome, inhuman details of their lives, the great friendships that sustained them, and the aftermath for the ones who survived make for tense and despairing reading, yes, but quite a profound experience.

Now I am reading Barry Unsworth’s Land of Marvels. He was a fine writer who lived a few valleys away in Umbria until his death last year. And my friend Melva just handed me The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund De Waal, so that’s next. I’d love to hear some recommendations from you!

Here’s my muse. She’s from an anonymous painting I bought at the Arezzo antique market, which takes place the first weekend of every month. I fantasize that she wants to read the book I am about to write.

 

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Arrival in Tuscany

May 16th, 2010

After the long flight  (longer because of flying way north to avoid the volcanic ash) the shock of deeply verdant hills flashing by the car window opens wide my sleepy eyes.  The splendid greens of May, intensified by constant rain, glow with a florescent brightness.  Towers!  Poppies!  Sheep! We’re back.  Always, it’s a miracle.  Oh, no, Mirko is driving 110 miles an hour.  I’ll have to get used to that.  Bramasole looks beautiful in the rain as we struggle up the driveway with our luggage.  I broke the family carry-on only rule and Ed has the pleasure of pulling fifty pounds uphill under a cloud burst. Gilda has left soup, a dish of chicken and artichokes and several salume and cheeses, which we attack immediately.  The house has been closed all winter and a faint mustiness is slowly giving way to the flowers Gilda has left in every room.  I’m in time this year for my lilacs and peonies.  The two mystery roses—twins—that survived thirty years when the house was abandoned, and now twenty more of our years here, are laden with buds about to break open. No one ever has identified this rose, which has an essential-rose fragrance, a tight round bud and a glorious many-petaled form.  I call it the Bramasole Rose.

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Home!  We simply pick up where we dropped off last fall.  Ed goes out to get his hair cut.  He’s been waiting for Francesco’s special touch with his spiky hair.  I pick up the book I didn’t finish last October and fall to bed for a three hour sleep.  Lovely that the days are long now.  We walk around the land and see that our fava beans are coming along, and the artichokes will be ready soon.  Half of one plum tree looks dead.  Ed builds a fire and we have dinner pulled up close to the heat.  This stone house hasn’t given up winter yet.

We talk about how the summer looks and how busy we’ll be with the 20th Anniversary party, loads of guests, a wedding in Friuli, a cruise where I’m to be the guest speaker, The Tuscan Sun Festival (Sting is coming!) and on and on.  This summer, I’ll probably spend most of my time in the kitchen because we’ve decided to gather all our favorite recipes into The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.  Ed is delighted because when it’s published, we won’t have to search through my books, our folders, and in odd drawers for scraps of paper where I’ve scrawled the ingredients for something we’ve eaten somewhere.  Steven Rothfeld will photograph as we go. www.stevenrothfeld.com We work together every year on an agenda with photographs (Frances Mayes Under the Tuscan Sun Agenda from Chronicle Books) and he did the good work in Bringing Tuscany Home. We’re excited about creating a book together and look forward to the inspiring fun of being with Steven.

We’ll start with spring’s bounty: peas, asparagus, fave, artichokes, green almonds, green garlic—green, green green.  We’re seeing green and will be tasting green for weeks.  First dish: risotto primavera.  Tomorrow, we’ll go to the market.

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