It’s been almost three months since we left our new old home in Santa Rosa, built in 1925, to return to our old old home in Santa Fiora. By “old old” I mean a house that was built in 1900, outside a village that is quoted by Dante in his 6th canto of the Purgatory of the Divine Comedy.
As an English lit major, I had to read The Divine Comedy. I don’t remember what I got in that class, but I didn’t find the work divine or funny at all. It scared the bejeezus out of me and it still does in our current political journey through hell and purgatory. To see why (if you don’t remember the story!), just go to Wikipedia.
Anyway, living in a village as old and full of history as this gives us a reverence for traditions we would never experience in the U.S., let alone California. It is a place that has known the corruption of power, the vagaries of war, the persecution of Jews, and years of economic hardship. And yet it zealously preserves art, architecture, music and natural resources on the picturesque slopes of the largest mountain in Tuscany. The traditions? Tolerance. Kindness. Pacifism. Humbleness. Reverence.
Just yesterday I was watching a casual soccer game some boys were playing in the village park. I was surprised to see the “goalie” was about half the size and age of the rest of the boys. I thought, “That little kid is going to get kicked in the face with the ball by those big kids. Must be one of the older kid’s pesky little brother they stuck in there.” Then I watched the little goalie block five kicks in a row, dive head-first to catch the ball, and kick it to the other end of the playing field. He was awesome! His teammates clapped him on the back. My lesson? I assumed a typical American scene was taking place, and instead it was a typical Italian one.
Maybe I should say it was a typical European scene. We were in Denmark for two weeks (more on that later) and kindnesses abounded. A neighbor a few houses away from the one we stayed at offered to drive us to the train station an hour away! His wife brought me half a chocolate cake for my birthday. On the train to Copenhagen, a young man with tattoos and piercings everywhere (that I could see) gave up his seat so Tim and I could sit together, then made sure we knew which stop to get off at.
I know these things happen in the U.S. too. But I also know there is a lot of anger floating around — on freeways, in schools, standing in line anywhere. Have expressions of anger become so normal that simple acts of kindness startle me?
We saw our first car accident since we’ve been back. It was in the little village next to ours. Judging by the look of the cars, the number of ambulances (two) just sitting there, and the fire trucks, it was bad. This little village is just a few storefronts and homes lining the road, and people walking on the side of the road to and from the grocery or whatever. When we drive through there, there are flashing signposts telling us exactly how fast we’re going and to controlla la velocita. One of the cars was a black Mercedes. All I could think was, “damn tourists.”
It IS tourist season in Tuscany. Even in Santa Fiora. It’s hard to find a parking space now. The road outside the peschiera is lined with rental cars. The park is full of people having picnics and kids playing. There are even people staying at the hotel in town, which is generally closed up tight.
That’s how things change when you’re living in a town, instead of just visiting. You are no longer so much an outsider. We meet new people in the village and they know all about us. “Americanos,” they call us of course. But they also know what house we live in, and that I have an orto (vegetable garden) and Tim is a pittore (painter). All we have to do now is learn the language!
So, the trip to Denmark I mentioned earlier. It is a beautiful country. Flat, a few rolling hills, miles and miles of grain fields, and water, water, everywhere. (Sorry, Denmark — b-o-r-i-n-g!) The country is made up of 134 islands. Did you know that? I sure didn’t. And for someone who is (get ready for a big reveal) afraid of driving over bridges, I was glad Tim was driving. But the architecture — tiny two-story houses , some with thatched roofs, gables, and shutters — is so. . . Danish. Speaking of which, yes — the pastries are the best you’ll ever find. So are, as I said earlier, the people.
This was our first experience doing a home exchange. We have friends who do it often, so I thought I would try it. I have our Tuscany house listed on a home exchange site and received an inquiry from a couple in Denmark. I’d never been to Denmark, so we wrote back and forth and dates worked for both of us. We exchanged photos, personal info, and assorted questions.
1) I know you don’t smoke in the house, but have you smoked for thirty years with the windows closed in your car you are lending us? 2) You’ve asked if we like dogs and would be willing to feed yours, but are they little yappy things that live in the house, have fleas, and insist on getting you up at 6 AM to “play”? 3) How far is your house from any village or town with more than a church in it? 4) Does it rain much there?
Our first week was spent avoiding the car and the rain and watching hours of Chopped and Say Yes to the Dress (Tim’s personal favorite). (Don’t judge — we haven’t had real TV for years and were mesmerized.) Finally the rain stopped and we found a few picturesque villages to explore, a castle with exquisite gardens, and two good restaurants. Then we spent two glorious days in Copenhagen, a fine, fine city that you definitely shouldn’t miss. But oy, those dogs. . .