|Donato's climbing roses|
It may not be immediately obvious what this post has to do with terroir, but I think it will become clear in the end.
On my first trip to Italy, I came to meet "the family".
I was a little nervous. My Italian was rudimentary [Yes, yes. I know. It still is.]
But my partner's father, Donato [I've changed his name for this post], put me at ease, much to my surprise.
I had the impression he would be the gruff and quiet type. I didn't know what we would talk about even if I could have attained eloquence in Italian.
But he was warm and open with me. He was endlessly patient with my poor language skills and seemed to enjoy teaching me new words.
He even, miraculously, seemed to get my jokes when no one else did. Humor doesn't always translate well across language and culture, and not only when the joke is a poor one (but of course, my jokes are always exemplary).
This man listened with more than his ears, and he just seemed to "get" me.
He still does. Nine years later, I can still make him laugh.
Sometimes even intentionally.
|Some of Donato's lemons|
It turned out, we shared a love of growing things. We walked around his garden, and I would learn obscure Italian vocabulary like "pruning," "grafting," "germinate," "innoculate," and others.
I would learn Italian quickly with him as my guide, but I would only be able to talk to farmers.
But that's OK. I happen to love farmers.
|Donato's grafting handiwork|
We had different things to share depending on the season of my visits. In summer, he impressed me by climbing to the top of one of his fig trees like a 70-something-year-old monkey to snatch the last fruits from the highest branches for me.
He and Luisa set me up at a table in the yard to can their tomatoes and basil with them.
In September and October he'd hand me pomegranates bigger than a softball.
At Christmas, there were oranges fresh from the tree to run through the juicer.
|It will be a good year for figs.|
But on this trip, things are a bit different.
By now, the end of April, there should be many green, leafy things in the garden. But there aren't. At least, not like in previous years. There's a lot of blank space in his agricultural canvas.
Because now, Donato can't see.
|A little bit of lettuce, but usually this is full of green in late April.|
He has always had one lazy eye, and one good eye.
But a recent surgery on his good eye went awry, and the doctors say that eye isn't going to get better.
So Donato can't see.
And, naturally, he's feeling very down about this.
No more driving. No more of many things he used to enjoy. Including sunlight. Including the garden.
Donato has lost his sight.
We bought him some wraparound sunglasses in the hope it would encourage him to go out. Slowly it seems to be working. Perhaps it helps that I've taken to calling him "Hollywood" when he wears them.
But I think even the thought of working in the garden makes him sad. He can't really see what he's doing. We remind him he has grandkids, and this is what they're for—Garden Guides.
One gift amid the current crisis is that I get to witness my partner's reaction to this sad state of affairs. I have often noted some difficulty connecting between father and son. But now I'm moved as I watch my sweet partner dive into the thing he knows best—technology—in the service of his dad.
He scours the web for information about devices and software to help the visually impaired. He tests out a tablet with Donato, trying to teach him to use it with special large fonts and synthesized voices. He envisions audiobooks and Google assistant in his dad's future, when he can no longer see even vague shapes and patches of light and shadow. He wants to teach him how to use this now because "it will be harder to learn when the sight is completely gone."
There are so many ways to love people. It's a beautiful thing when you find your way, but just as beautiful is the willingness to search for it.
|Roses and rosemary|
I try to strike a balance between encouraging Donato and giving him space to grieve this very personal loss.
Loss of sight. And the loss of countless other things that go along with that.
Loss of security. Loss of freedom and independence.
This is huge. I can't imagine how I would handle a similar situation for myself. I like to think I'd have equanimity, and maybe I could eventually achieve that. But not right out of the starting gate. Nope.
Intense grief is what I imagine.
And I feel some of that on his behalf as I walk through the garden, without him.
I miss my garden companion.
But in my mind I have the conversation I would have had if I'd been able to coax him outside.
I imagine myself in his shoes, trying to find his way through this new terrain.
It is something of a walking prayer for my friend.
I close my eyes.
There are birds. Lots of them, which I hadn't noticed with my eyes open.
One seems to be auditioning for American Idol (or Italian Idol?), and not the early stage tryouts, either. This bird is good. This bird is, as they say, "tearin' the roof off the sucka;" bringing down the house. I smile.
The lemon and orange trees Donato has so carefully tended over the years are bursting with blossoms, surrounded by clouds of fragrance, pulling me in. Pulling the bees in, too. I hadn't heard their buzz and hum with my eyes open, but now it's a chorus, blending seamlessly with the birds. Who is this genius conductor? I feel so grateful.
|Orange blossoms. I wish you could smell them, dear reader.|
Part of the world is shrinking for you, Donato, but come out here and remember the things you already know from years working in harmony with the natural world:
Green is more than a color. It's a scent. You will remember this after the music of spring rains stirs that green into the air, to mix with the orange blossoms, with the basil, mint, and oregano at your feet.
Bend, slowly if you must, but bend to touch that soil you have understood so well throughout your life. Feel the little stones, sharp or smooth. Touch the roots. Take your grandchild's hand and make your rows. Feel that sun on your back, your arms, warm and life-giving.
Find, too, that sixth sense that sees all, without need of the eyes. That sense that knows all is well in this very moment.
|Future grapes for the table.|
You are still here with us. Thank heaven you are here. We are glad, and so is this world that calls out to you, seeks to contact and engage you in ways you may have forgotten—through these humming bees and raucous birds, these puffs of jasmine from the trellis.
July and August will arrive, arms laden with delicious, soft figs for the tasting. September will replace them with pomegranates, plump jewel boxes ready and waiting for you. You might not see the gems so clearly, but these juicy rubies will fill your mouth with as much delight as ever.
In this way, the world will be returned to you, I swear it.
Oh Donato, how I pray this dark cloud might disperse for you.
Then may you hear, and feel, and smell, and taste every sweet color you have missed.
|Future olives for the table.|