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Friday, June 10, 2011

Italy Travel Tales: Going Away to Write is Dicey

Have you ever written in a faraway locale? Hemingway once said "To write about Paris I had to go to Michigan," or something to that effect. Now, I am not Hemingway but I think ol' Ern Papa means that often you can't see a place clearly while you are in it. Do you think that's true?

Going away to write can be dicey. More than dicey, sometimes. You've looked forward to it. To break with your life and write, and then, well. what?

Unseen, the place might be stuffy. Bug-ridden (one friend was attacked by hornets in her retreat place) Falling-down rotten and in a bad location. You'll NEVER be able to work. In fact, this place is so bad, you'll never be able to write again, period.

But if it is not this awful doom it can get you out of the rugged emotional furrows where obligations and daily responsibilities fester and wear down your Muse. On retreat your Muse gets to wander about. Try on new hats and sandals. Make up for lost time. In the best circumstances you can even get some real work done, deep work that leads you somewhere else entirely. A few years ago after leading one of our adult tours to Tuscany I stopped back to Corniglia in the Cinque Terra to do some revising with a capital R. Though two days is not a long time- time extended once I sank into the village and the City of Ladies.

Here's the tale of two fires and a Muse!

Yesterday my knees and legs and feet, were so bone-tired especially after the walk up the hill from the train station in the late evening light. I didn't think I would ever walk or want to walk again.
But it is already morning on my first real day in Corniglia. I slept so soundly and dreamed of Great Winds screaming across the Mediterranean. And when I woke, the shutters I thought were closed, were open.
            And what a view! From my little portico I can see almost everything. The streets of Corniglia, bustle with people and as then just as suddenly curl up and become steep terraced slopes of vineyards. A funny little roller coaster track drops into the vineyards, and a cart chugs by heavy with grapes. At the end of the portico I can just spot the narrow ally way that must lead to the sea. On the hill across from me a garden steps out and down. White chickens and ducks flurry among the tomatoes.

When writing; cooking entices the world of the muse. So, here's a little menu of eating with the Muse in Corniglia.

            For Saturday lunch – I wandered in the village. To get familiar and to get my bearings. I wanted to set my mouth on something delicious and easy. But no one seemed to want to seat me, a woman alone. Was I misunderstanding? It's been done before I wanted to say. Its okay, I enjoy eating alone and jotting things down on paper. But I shrug and answer their question. No, I do not have a reservation.

So out one door and into another. At a small mercato down the street I seized lettuce, coffee, sugar, milk, pasta, tomato sauce, olives, eggplant, focaccia, pecorino cheese, yellow pepper, fresh basil, and then with my arms loaded to the gills the scent of olive and tomato pizza stopped me. So woth one balanced on the top of my provisions I headed up the hill to La Terrazze. A glass of chianti later, ok, maybe two found me sharing lunch on the portico with my two good friends; pizza and eggplant. Then clouds rolled across the sea and sent me into a luxurious nap. Open doors. No cares and settling in. Rain. Blissful drops anointed my transitional slumber.

I woke and turned the pages of the manuscript, welcoming the Muse to join me.

            Soon the Muse instructed me to put a pot on the stove to hum with a soup while I wrote. But the Muse failed to tell me there was some secret to the stove, perhaps the same secret that prevented me from getting a lunch table in the village. Nope, couldn't light it. I slipped on my sandals and ran down the steps to the village street. Asked at the now familiar small mercato how to get a hold of Mary Angela, the owner of La Terraze. There was a problem. Big Problemo.

Gone for the night.
The night?
Si, senora.

I looked from his face to the baskets of squash, and my Muse spied and decided more basilica would help this dilemma. I suppose my Muse was enjoying that the Italian word basilica meant both basil and church. Anyway, my Muse decided that basil would help unlock the stove and entice fire for my soup; eggs, whatever else I thought I would cook. Next door at the bar, I bought matches. With the basil in one hand, and matches in the other I followed the crowd.  The little alley way opened up into a porchway. Everyone had gathered at the wall overlooking the sea. The hot apricot sun sat silent hovering above the blue green and slate Mediterranean. Steep rocks jutted into the sea; similar to how the sea meets Taormina and how Taormina leads to Mt. Etna, the marvelous mountain of fire in Sicily. And in the moment of that memory I had an idea that sealed the ending of City of Ladies. And when I got back to La Terrazze, I lit the stove and made soup. 

            Stove-top tomato soup contained olives, crushed tomatoes in the style of arrabiatta, garlic, fresh basil (lots) and peppers, with farro pasta.

            Evening descended; cloaking some sounds but releasing others. With the shutters closed and the key removed from the inside door, that would have been easy to reach through the window. Another hour passed and I shut the window. It was goodbye to the day, and I worked till 12:30 am. Closing in, distilling and concentrating. Still a bit of rain, and the Great Wind made a return engagement outside.

Near morning I woke on and off. At 6 am, 7 :15 and then 8 and every few minutes till 8:30. 
Made coffee, opened the cantucci cookies and sat a pear on my plate to watch. I ate on the portico asking, Pear, what’s next? I watched the couple on the patio below have breakfast. Was it wrong to spy on them? While she was smelling the flowers his fingers picked up the last cantucci cookie. 

For lunch I stewed thick slices of porcini, garlic, yellow pepper, more stems of basil – sweated in olive oil – then ladled them over cannelloni, ceci beans and leftover focaccia with cubes of fresh pecorino. Wine. Wine not?
On my last stroll to watch the sunset the sea glowed, absolutely glowed at the line of the horizon. Looking to the west, the light blinded me at the moment when the red blaze hissed into the sea.

I must, one day, live by the sea. The two fires. And a muse.

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