Excerpt of Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes
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Now, signor Martini has metamorphosed into a gardener. A couple of times a week, he comes here to work, often bringing his sister-in-law as well.
Every day involves a trip to a nursery--we've visited every one within twenty miles--or a walk around the terraces and yard sketching possible gardens. Winter rains have softened the soil so that I sink slightly as I walk. Since we're here in time, I aim to have the most riotous, flamboyant, flourishing garden this side of the Boboli in Florence. I want every bird, butterfly, and bee in Tuscany to feel drawn to my lilies, surfinias, jasmine, roses, honeysuckle, lavender, anemones, and to the hundred scents drifting from them. Even though the risk of freeze is still a consideration, I barely can restrain myself from planting. In the nursery greenhouses, the humid air and the narcotizing effect of bright geraniums, hydrangeas, petunias, impatiens, begonias, and dozens of other rosy pinks and corals, entice me to load the car immediately.
"Whoa, slow down," Ed says. "We should buy only what we can plant now, the lavender, rosemary, and sage." These replace what was damaged by the paralyzing winter storm, when it snowed, melted, then froze all in one day. "And more trees can be planted immediately. There's plenty of time."
Plenty of time. What a musical phrase.
Even the spring night is shocking. The silence of the country sounds loud. I'm not yet accustomed to the shrieks of owls tearing apart the stillness. We're coming from burrito-and-a-movie nights, order-out-for-Chinese nights, seventeen-messages-on-the-
answering-machine nights. I wake up at three or four and wander from room to room, looking out the windows. What is this quiet, the big, moony night with a comet ball smearing my study window and the dark valley below? Why can't I erase the image my student wrote: the comet, like a big Q-tip swabbing the sky? A nightingale practices some nightingale version of scales, lingering on each note. This seems to be a lone bird; no answer comes to the plaintive song.
Late every afternoon, Ed hauls in olive wood. We have supper on trays in front of the fire. "Now, we're back," he says, raising his glass to the flames, perhaps to the humble god of the hearth. Happiness, divine and banal word, a complex proposition which shifts its boundaries constantly, and sometimes feels so very easy. I pull a blanket around me and doze over Italian idioms. A wind comes up. Which one? The tramontana, tinged with frigid air from the Alps, the ponente, bringing rain, or the levante, blowing hard and fast from the east? The cypresses outlined by moonlight seem to swirl their pointed tops in all directions. Certainly it is not the libeccio, the warm, dry wind from the south, or the summery grecale or maestrale. These winds in the chimney are serious, reminding me that in March, spring is only an idea.
Excerpted from Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy by Frances Mayes. Copyright © 1999 by Frances Mayes. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.