Another Letter from Italy

We're off to Rome in the morning. Reflections on the past month. Nothing exceptional.

It's raining again. The thunder has been rolling over the mountains, and soaking rain drifting across the valley below. At the old farm house across the way, the bedding that had been sunning at one of the second story windows has been pulled safely back inside. Springtime, in the way that most of us think of it, finally came four days ago. Now we have sun each morning. It warms the walls and walk ways and we rush to get outside and away from the chill of stone interiors.

Each day the clouds and showers return at almost the exact time for the mid-day meal and siesta. In rural Italy's villages and small towns, everything shuts down from noon until about 4:30. So, it is here. And so, we eat and read and nap. It's a far mor civilized way of life. Work hard for four hours. Eat, rest, read for four, then back to work until about 8:00. Never really exhausted, very productive, few disorders associated with high blood pressure.

Apparently, near Venice, there is a US Airforce base. Unexpectedly, though several times a week, American fighter jets, complete with missles, fly at disturbingly low altitudes over the workshop. The crashing sound and displaced air waves bounce from mountain sides to valley floors and literally arrest work, conversation and most moverment in general. Even though Pasquale tells us that this has gone on for years, it is not something that a body adjusts to easily. Once, I exclaimed: "Son of a bitch!". Pasquale broke into laughter and told me that his grandfather had moved to New York for five years when he, Pasquale, was a boy. The grandfater made a lot of money, but missed his family, homeland and culture and so returned. But, of the things he brought back to Tuscany, was the exclaimation, "Son of a bitch!". Pasquale hadn't heard the it since the death of the old man. He loved it, and from time to time repeats it out of the blue, accompanied by a chuckle. My hunch is that the saying rekindles memories of his grandad.

While working in the afternoons, I can stop at almost anytme. And, if I remain still for just long enough to listen, I can hear the coo-koo birds calling and responding from the forest. When it rains hard the great trees in the forest sway and moan, as if dancing to music transmitted at levels outside our range of hearing. This whole area of Northern Italy is exploding with life. Grape wines have leafed out seemingly overnight. Farmers are mowing vast hay fields, and back yard gardens are in full production. The food shops are filled with local produce, shoppers daily load their carts with the new veggies. In the market, the shop keepers' curiousity had overcome their friendly shyness. Lately, we've been asked, who we are, where we are staying and why we have come to Mercatello. As the butcher said, "We don't see too many Americans around here".

I won't bore you, but I just must comment that this region is just incredibly beautiful. We often take different, sometimes off the beaten path drives. We climb steep, twisting, often one lane, roads with vast, deep and green valleys, farms, pastures and farm houses. Not unusually, we cross over bridges built by Romans. In fact, Gay and I "discovered" a Roman bridge right here in Mercatello. At times we stop in villages whose narrow streets barely accommodate our Fiat, and which, in the village center have castel walls, abbeys, forts and the like, directtly across the piatzza from a tiny outdoor expresso/gellato shopl

Finally, a word about apes. In this case, an ape (ah-pay) is a three wheeled miniture pick-up (with two wheels in the rear) that country folk use for just about any chores that need doing. Most farms are small, and built on terrased hillsides. Apes can manuver up and down, in between and around rows of grape vines with ease. They are powered by motot scooter engines, and inside the single person cab, there are handle bars. Well, they are very cool, and I began to fantasize about introducing ape racing events, in which villages could have racing teams, compete regionally and ultimately nationally in a vareity of events (e.g., ape drag races, the Italian Tour de Apes, Indy-car style and cross county ape race). I introduced the idea to everyone, thinking I was a very clever guy. Then Gay went on-line and discovered that the Italians are way ahead of me. They pull off the bed, add roll bars, insert high performance engines and have balls to the wall races of all sorts… even in snow and mud. They can go very fast, complete with controlled skids around corners, and hair pin turns on two wheels.

Pasquale's 14 year old son has a 19 year old ape that he "races" up and down the hill to the village. I have nicknamed him "Speed Racer", and I've been trying to convince him to introduce ape racing at this year's summer village festival. He had never seen an ape race, so Gay turned him on to the on-line videos. He has become a real fan. His mother hates me..not really.

It is still thundering, but we don't care. We leave for Arezzo in the morning, then on to Rome. Our luggage is over burdened with stone. We are worried about exceeding the weight limits. Gay bought a hard sided suitcase for my large sculpture, but it was too heavy. So we put the stone base in another bag, but it still might be too heavy.

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Really glad that we made the trip, and really gald to be headed home as well. Although, home for both of us means Texas, not New Mexico. From all indications, we are headed back to unfinished projects, that we anticipated would not have taken 5 weeks to complete. But that is not really accurate either. Understanding human behavior as we do, I believe we both sensed that once we were no longer present, the workers would shift gears down to half-speed. And they apparently, have done just that.

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