It’s hot and the woods are golden in the summer light. Every evening we make our way up the mountain on the old vespa delighting in the verdant cool archway of trees over the narrow road. Pieve dei Monti di Villa is a haven, its deep mountain quiet, a complete rest after full on days in the studio or foundry in Pietrasanta.
Mike’s dear dad died a couple of weeks ago. We went back to Australia to attend the funeral and to be with family. We shared stories and cried and laughed. He felt like a big man in life. He had big bushy eyebrows, bright blue eyes and was handsomely craggy and always elegant and charming in company. Never afraid of an argument, his household was never quiet around him except when he was painting. He had huge hands that were capable of the most meticulous work, painting beautiful small canvases of the sea, and at the same time building houses and restoring furniture. He was tireless. He had so much energy to do and create, still perching himself intently on a stool for hours on end painting the bay he loved up until a few days before he died. He had always suffered ill health, but never let it get to him, patiently subjecting himself to endless examinations and operations and medications, succumbing in the end to his original nemesis, the polio he contracted at 17.
He shared memories before he died, of that year as a young man spreadeagled in bed on a rhomboid wooden structure that his father lovingly made, that kept his legs apart and feet up, arms and legs strapped down while he slept. His recovery saw him in the sea at Blackrock, brought down the steep sandy banks on the back of a young bushie from Wodonga who placed him gently into the waves where his weightless body could perambulate and slowly regain the strength he had lost. But the exhausted nerves of his body stole his strength again at the end and one night he peacefully left it alone on the hospital bed. On his way, he came to France again where Michael and I were visiting the quaint medieval villages he loved to paint; and he visited Tom, his grandson, surfing at sea and came in the form of a whale that played nearby; and he went on to the Canadian lakes where Sollai, another grandson, was taking a nature retreat and he came there in the form of a black bear before his being floated away. Those thoughts at the end are what we like to believe as some of our family felt his energy passing by and felt it symbolized in the things they saw at the time….
Now we are home again in Pieve, with all our memories. I am sitting here in the late morning, hearing nothing but the song of birds and the persistent chirping of their babies up under the eaves of the roof. The light is bright and hard on the stone walls all about us and the shadows are deep and welcome under the ivies and trees in the gathering heat. Our little house is monastic, we come here with nothing to remind ourselves of busyness, just a few books and old videos played and replayed forever on the old television when talking seems irrelevant. And this little nest with its lack of material possession, its lack of needs, its very wholesomeness, somehow halts our own eternal lusting for outcomes, for things, for achievements, and we find ourselves with a feeling of plenty and we let go and remember how connected we are to all of life, to the birds, our sleeping kitten, the old cotto floors, the ancient walls, the breath of air cooling as it enters the shadows and touches your skin.