Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Cherry Saga

It has been neverending. Cherry after cherry after cherry. I'm not complaining. Substitute breakfast snack with: Cherry Snack. Substitute coffee break with: Cherry Break. Substitute lunchtime fruit with: Lunch Cherries. Substitute afternoon tea with: Cherry O'Clock...

Get out your ladder girl, and get some Cherry Belly.

Nature is really stupendissima. We are given these gifts every spring, year after year, despite doing not a thing. No pesticides, no pruning. And they stand so helplessly bare all winter, bereft. The fog is so thick here that you can just make out the one furthest from the house in a blur of cotton wool. Then, come March, you have blossoms. Beautiful white blossoms shimmering in the air. And in May, in time for your spring appetite, these red treasures.

Living in the country is hard work - yes! Try getting teens to push a lawnmower or help prune the pines. Or clear the side fence of grapevines scooting every which way. But isn't it good for a child to see a tree grow, to know the journey of a tiny piece of fruit? I remember an American teacher of friend of mine taught horticulture to rich American kids sejouring in Florence. She asked them, Where does lettuce come from? They looked at her blankly. They did not know.

Ahh I love my cherry trees. I've become such a cherry snob I look at cherries at the fruit stand and wrinkle my nose. Bah! Old wares! Give me something I can sink my teeth into and swivel around in my mouth. Let me choose between the top branches with dark burgundy fruit, or the lower ones with red rich cherries - still a little tart but give them a few days... Then let's do jam for breakfast, jam for cherry summer flans, cherry vodka, cherry grappa for when next winter rolls around.

Does anyone else have a cherry fixation?

In other local news two different men on bicycles tried to pick up this jogging writer who was actually THINKING UP HER NEW STORY LINE AS SHE JOGGED. How could they not see I was still 'working'? Why oh why did I throw on a pair of shorty-shorts instead of my baggy cut-offs that were in the wash?

Salve Signorina, You have a good pace going there. You know you are fast.
Yes the supermarket is about to close.
Will you be here again tomorrow night? I live just by here.
Yes. With my three sons !

Next time I will be jogging in a tent.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Lemon Loving in Italy

I have a weakness for lemons. Perhaps it is because we never had a lemon tree, but used to pinch them from the neighbour's tree. While I adore lemons in pots and look after mine like children (wrapped in scarves in the old chicken shed through winter), lemon trees in the ground send me into ecstasy. Imagine my daily thrill when I recently went to southern Italy, south of Sorrento in fact, and walked through lemon orchards to the sea, saw them bobbing over every fence, fraying delicately in every garden. Bliss for moi.

I took the night train down from Verona, cruised through Rome at dawn, and arrived in boisterous Naples mid-morning. Not my first time. As a young au pair I was dragged off by a rich Milanese family to their holiday home on Stromboli.. just as the story goes in Peltand Other Stories. Before catching the ferry I slept in the station with my cropped hair and knapsack: the NZ guy next to me had his wallet sliced out of his jeans. 

But last month I was heading out of Naples towards Sorrento, then up to a village high above the coastline with the swish island of Capri plonked in front. Seafood was enjoyed, everybody’s favourite bitter green cima di rapa was devoured, the coffee was divine, much wine was thrown back and the company was very, very good. 

Funny, it seemed that everything we ate or were offered was to be washed down with the local drop limoncello, which you may or may not have tried. Imagine a smooth lemon juice going down like a sweet sunkissed syrup. It perks you up quick smart. I can’t believe I gave my bottles away and will face the hot summer without them! It seemed there was a lemony idea for every moment of the day: fresh lemon juice for breakfast, tangy lemon biscuits; and lemon drizzled over your squid, your octopus and your grilled fish thanks. 

And of course limoncello at any hour... 

Every morning skeins of cloud would fade away to reveal Capri on her silver platter of sea. Most of the time I was dumbfounded. I confess I didn’t manage to go there, preferring a lazy day on the beach and not so keen to mingle with the tourists. Lots of big pebbles and a long walk. It wasn’t even warm, but this Australian decided to have her first Mediterranean swim of the season. Picture this skinny writer in a borrowed costume working up her strokes out to the moored boats – and half-dying of hypothermia afterwards. Limoncello required.

I wanna go back!
We also savoured Sorrento from her most marvellous vantage point. The bar on the jetty under the cliff. Far away from the tourist throng. Close to the lapping of the water. Seafood to die for. An afternoon I didn’t want to end. I would do almost anything to be back there..

Lastly, for all you lemon-lovers out there, this is from Pablo Neruda's A Lemon. It is sublime.

So, while the hand
holds the cut of the lemon,
half a world
on a trencher,
the gold of the universe
to your touch:
a cup yellow
with miracles,
a breast and a nipple
perfuming the earth;
a flashing made fruitage,
the diminutive fire of a planet.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Am I Real Enough?

After an involuntarily blog hiatus caused by internet inexistence, computer downfall, travel escape and cherry-picking, I am back with you. It has been a long long break. But still every so often a reader crops up or writes to say they have enjoyed reading DLC and I am thrilled to the back teeth, to my back bone and to the very weedy end of my back yard. In the meantime I have escaped to Sorrento and London and will do the appropriate rambling in due course. Other blog posts will follow concerning my recent experiences with Pink Floyd, Simon and Garfunkel and Rod Stewart - in cosy Mediterranean Italy! But first, a reflection about author truths and lies following an article written by cleverchops Tim Parks, fellow latino expat who takes the cake.

Tim has written a thoughtful piece called 'Stupid Questions' in the New York  Review of Books that had me chuckling. The savvy writer laments the stupid questions people ask at the end of author presentations at book festivals. Ever been to one and timidly raised your hand?

Tim Parks = cool writer
He writes: One arrives in a tent with a hundred-odd seats, of which half are occupied. a presenter who many or may not have really read your book offers a potted version of your life that mainly amounts to age, bibliography, and accolades. The novel you are presenting is sketched out: a few items of plot, the suggestion of some kind of theme or message. Listening to this you are overwhelmed by the enormous gap between the density and complexity, the sheer volume of what you have written and this drastic reduction...Meantime, among the audience, a small group have already read the book, so anything they hear about it is infinitely less than what they already know. Another group have never read anything you've written, so they are hardly the wiser from these few formulaic crumbs... 

It reminded me of the time I spoke about DLC in Italian the Women's Festival in Matera. The journo approached me twenty minutes before we were on, told me she hadn't read the book, suggested we speak about the 'stallone italiano' (the Italian stud) and 'la crisi economica' (the economic crisis) to grab the audience's attention. As it happens there is an Italian lover in Marilyn's story - in the form of crazy Federico, lapsed agronomist and lapsed lover of Marilyn's cheeky Australian friend Fiona. Not exactly Stud Material. And as for the economic crisis that has hit Italy so hard.. our gal Marilyn stole away her husband's credit card, found a part-time job modelling erotica and taught English! So, err, she was still able to buy her designer clothes.

That interview was a tussle really, with me trying to be entertaining, raise a laugh out of a very serious audience, leap through language hoops, and catch the tail-end of the journo's ten-minute-long questions.

Parks has a point. Those in attendance don't really want to hear about the way you sit down in your pyjamas and ugg boots and do a deal with the devil not to check your post. They don't want to hear about how you took a trip to the moon between chapters 11 and 12, or that your goldfish died and made you think up that weird part, or you saw this cute guy in the bus, or that you were actually taken to a club where a man was led around on a dog leash. Or perhaps only smidgens of this. Yes, they do want to hear smidgens.

For your part you know perfectly well that there is an absolute continuity between this book and your life. You will talk about the book as if your were in control of its creation, and perhaps you are to a degree, but behind and before that is a vast hinterland of experience and events over which you had no control. Only you could have written this particular book, not because you are better or more imaginative than anyone else, but because you are you.. Who could it come from but you?

'Do you think your move to Italy altered the way you think and write?'
'Does your wife read your books and if so what does she think of them?'

Parks goes nuts over the 'shots in the dark' of the audience's questions and he has a point. The gulf between creation and its intention, and the sunhats and rows of plastic chairs under a tent, must be rather disorienting, even trying. I remember seeing Ngugi wa Thion'go speak in Mantova - whose breakthrough book was written in a prison cell on loo paper! My son and I sat in hallowed silence as the great man spoke, and were almost ashamed to have him sign our dog-chewed copy. Or the time that Toni Morrison spoke there too. Before she had finished her eloquent reflections that were a joy to hear - the autograph seekers were already forming a queue up to her chair!

Been to any cracking litfests lately? Or are you planning to this summer/winter? What would you ask the author of your favourite recent read? 

And - go on then - what would you ask this crazy author about DLC??

.. They are groping for some kind of connection between the figure on the stage and the particular atmosphere of the novels they have read.. Yet even as you try and inevitably fail to answer their questions you are probably telling them more, in your perplexity and frustration, or your wryiness and charm, than you ever could have by explaining your book.

* * *
Tim Parks' books Italian Neighbours and An Italian Education are as close to the bone as you will get to living in contemporary Italy.