Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Fiume Mingardo, San Severino di Centola, Italia

The trouble with open-hearted travel is you fall in love every week, every day, every hour.

I'm so in love with these olive trees in my yard, shaken up by a storm off the sea two days ago, which I also fell in love with (despite driving through her torrents of rain and punishing winds thoroughly convinced she was trying to kill me—and indeed, she killed eleven people in this country). She made the normally serene Gulf of Policastro look like the Atlantic ocean as a hurricane approaches. All the way from my perch between Scario and San Giovanni a Piro I could see the waves sweeping in . That howling music of her gusts shaking everything on this hill, her unabashed display of her power—how could I not be impressed, how could I not be moved? 

Gulf of Policastro after the storm, gradations of blue mixed with river run-off.

The day before, when the winds first arrived, I watched a group of crows for a good hour as they dove and tumbled together, like it was a game. I'm convinced they were playing. They had no purpose other than this. It brought tears to my eyes, and laughter, and gratitude to be a witness to what must have been sheer joy in Being, the contagious rapture of flight. And yes, I fell in love with them, too. This land is making me polyamorous, for sure. 

My feet land in this Cilento and immediately want to sprout roots. Any of my long-time friends and my family will tell you it's quite an achievement for any locale to turn my thoughts and my heart to staying in one place, to make me use words like "home". Back in the days of handwritten address books (remember those?) the rule was always: write Jen's address in pencil; nothing permanent. 

Home, of course, is never merely coordinates on a map. It's also voices and faces. There are faces here I've come to adore. Voices, too, even as I continue to ask them to deliver the music of their language more slowly.

Moon over Gulf of Policastro

Clouds and olives trees from my drievway.

It's frustrating to not yet have all the vocabulary for love in this new tongue. I'm forced to keep my expressions small and simple, like a folk song composed of three chords. 
This has its charm.
But it falls a little short when there's a full opera fervently coursing through my heart. 
When words fail, there are tears of joy to fall back upon. And I often do, silently awestruck at my good fortune, wishing the same for everyone, everywhere. 

Oasi WWF Grotte del Bussento, Morgerati, Italia
Oasi WWF Grotte del Bussento, Morgerati, Italia
But those roots I mentioned, sprouting from my soles and my soul, they must be elastic. They must stretch to accommodate other loves, because my heart swells, too, at the thought of Rovinj (Rovigno), Croatia, and her pines along my favorite bike path next to her bliss-inducing blue Adriatic. I arrive there in spring to trees heavy with cherries; others with pomegranate flowers preparing for the sweet jewels that will arrive in the Autumn. 

Pomegranate flowers, Rovinj, Croatia

At sunset there, I listen attentively for my old friend, the Scops owl, whom I have only ever heard in this place. He's the soundtrack of the Istrian night for me. He brings me such a complete peace, of body and soul. Even if I awaken in the middle of the night, when I hear my tiny, feathered Romeo through the window, I want to stay up and just listen with a stupid smile plastered across face. It might be the purest form of love I know. I listen and there is no longer any separation between the human and natural worlds. He restores that for me with a simple sound, my Romeo. 

There are Croatian faces and voices, too—my other adopted family, that feeds me and plies me with homemade liqueurs on each trip, despite my protests and reminders that I am the lightest of light-weights when it comes to alcohol, and they'll have to carry me upstairs to my bed if they're not careful.  

Don't let the innocent smiles fool you. They want to get you *wasted*
There is my partner in bubble-blowing, Petar, who had not yet arrived on planet Earth when I first encountered Rovinj. I return each season to a different boy; first one who crawls, then one who walks, and now, one who calls me "teta" (aunt). I try to learn Croatian for his sake. We can't connect through bubble-blowing forever, at least not exclusively.

Rovinj street by night

Rovinj, old port

The roots must stretch further still, though. Because as travel opens the heart ever wider and sets it ablaze, I know that Sevilla, Spain, could also be Home—as long as air conditioning exists. Maybe it could be a winter home? This is conditional love, I know, but stop there for a visit in August, *then* judge me. 

Walk out the door in Sevilla and prepare to be gobsmacked by beauty around every corner. Every sense on high alert, if you're wise. 
You'll be enveloped by clouds redolent of orange blossom. Kitchen scents to make you ravenous and ecstatic from every tapas bar you pass. 

Paella on the Alameda de Hercules

Along the Alameda de Hercules, Sevilla, Spain
You'll see Islamic-influenced architecture, brightly colored parrots in palm trees, and at a certain time of year, the unearthly beauty of the people of Sevilla dressed in their finery, on the way to the spring feria celebrations—polka-dot dresses, trajes cortos, and cordobes abound. Yes, I've fallen in love with hundreds of Sevillanos. I do nothing but sigh in that city.

Cathedral of Sevilla
The hook, though, the thing that said, "Here, Señora. This is the place. This is your place" was the music and the dance. The flamenco duende that grabs you by the heart and shakes you to your soul. The sound that erupts spontaneously on a street and makes Sevillanas forget the tapas on their plates and rise out of their chairs and dance together, clapping, as their friends urge them on with ¡Ale!  It is not a performance, though you can find those, too. It's a spontaneous expression of Life, an exquisite mix of joy and pain. It is love.

And it, too, feels like home.

Then there are countless other places that have winked at me and said, "Hey . . . Hey, girl. Come check me out. I've got blue seas, too. I've got trees to make you weak in the knees. I've got so many stories to tell you, castles to show you. Let me cook for you all the beautiful things my land puts forth . . . My name is Salento (or Padua, or Bologna, or Slovenia, or Lausanne, etc. You get the idea).

Ancient olive trees, Miggiano, Il Salento, Puglia, Italia

Specchia, Il Salento, Puglia, Italia

Chiesa Maria S.s Addolorata, Lecce, Puglia, Italia

Otranto, Il Salento, Puglia, Italia

Otranto, Il Salento, Puglia, Italia

So what's a gal to do? 
I have a home, in the traditional sense. An address. A place I know well, with people I also know and love well. My Love is there, and he gives me an anchor on the occasions when he doesn't hoist it up and join me. 

But I feel there is something different about a home you have by default—because your metaphorical spaceship crash-landed there when you arrived on this planet—and a home you have sought out, pursued, with all your senses awakened until your soul erupted and said, "Here! This is the place."

I wonder what the Gypsy word for Home is, and if it's literal roots give some hint at how to navigate this dilemma of Home being everywhere and anywhere you pitch your tent or park your caravan.
They are wise, I think. They bring their music and their loved ones with them, to make a complete home anywhere.

Any place where there is love—love you can experience with all the senses—that's home.

We have a saying in English that "home is where the heart is."
I like it better stated as "The heart is where home is."

You take it with you, everywhere you go.
Open it wide, wider, wider, and you're never far from home.

Monte Bulgheria, Il Cilento, Italia

A new kind of harvest, Bosco di San Giovanni, Italy

Sun sets behind the hills in Morgerati

Spiaggia Acquafredda

Oasi WWF Grotte del Bussento, Moregerati, Italia
"Fonte Miracolosa di Pietrasanta" San Giovanni a Prio.

Gifts left for the Virgin Mary

View from Il Rifugio del Contadino, Bosco di S Giovanni, Italy

Dusk at Il Rifugio del Contadino, Bosco di S Giovanni

Night falls over the Gulf of Policastro, Il Cilento

Sevilla, Spain

Plaza de España, Sevilla, Spain

Sunset near the old town, Rovinj, Croatia

Rovinj, Croatia, seaside bike path

Rovinj, Croatia

Adriatic Sea from bike path, Rovinj, Croatia

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Lost and Found

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 forGarden 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 besttechnologyin 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 forgottenthrough 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.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Naming the Wind

Naming the Wind

There is something heroic about a people
who will give a proper name
to a force as ephemeral as the Wind.
I would know such intimacy of place.
I want to know them; those winds
and the people who named them.

The Scirocco wind bursts forth
From the Sahara and Arabian deserts
Lifting particles of colored sand to
make the Blood Rains fall on Italy.

The Tramontana thunders across the Alps
like Hannibal and his elephants
On their way to the Trebia,
Destined to vanquish Romans.

Where they know the Bora,
heavy ropes line the streets
for the people to hold on.
Bora winds of Trieste have the power
to knock you down.

But how should we name
the wind that comes
without warning, with nothing to grasp,
The one after you've already fallen, that
blows out the flame
in the heart?

And what of the one that rises
as if out of Charybdis’ maelstrom, to encircle you,
To seek the dying embers and
Revive them?
I would know that wind.

Tell me its name.

Triestini battle the Bora

Friday, October 27, 2017


Italian is not my language.
I don’t mean that in the sense of "I'm not Italian" or “I wasn’t born into it,” though both of those are true.
I mean that it’s not mine yet. It doesn’t move across my synapses with the ease I hope to one day attain.
At home, with my mother tongue, I’m used to being generally considered an intelligent, educated, and articulate person.
In Italy, in Italian, I sound like an academically challenged five-year-old.
Which is difficult in some ways (mostly for my ego), but I find when people think you’re not very bright, they don’t expect much from you.
I’m just saying, it has its benefits.

As I say, I hope one day Italian will be “my language.” One of them, anyway.
I hope to relieve my Italian friends of the burden of assembling into something coherent the linguistic puzzle pieces that currently spew forth from my confused face.

But there is one phrase I hope I never integrate into my brain like an Italian. I want to keep my non-native understanding of it. I like it better.

The phrase is “venire a trovare.”
For Italians, it simply means “to come visit.”

I didn’t know this until my dear friend, Isabella, corrected me. I had been using the word “visitare”, to visit.
They were dining at my house in the Cilento (see La Divina Commedia post), and I asked her three-year-old daughter, who already speaks better Italian than me, if she would come visit me when I return to the Cilento in a few weeks. I used “visitare.”
Isabella gently corrected me, “Vieni a trovarmi,” come visit me.

I try to remember to use it now as I invite nearly everyone I know in Italy (and friends in other countries) to come visit me. I'm eager to share the joy of discovery with friends, new and old.

But even as my Italian improves, I will hold fast to my more literal English translation:
“Come find me.”
"Trovare," by itself, means "to find," "to discover," among other things.
I wish I could convince Italy to adopt this sense of the phrase.

This is beautiful to me. It goes deeper than a visit.
It goes much deeper than any social media network.

Confidences, by Pierre Auguste Renoir, 1878

Come find me.
Let’s find each other.
I’ll cook for you, and take pleasure in your pleasure.
Tell me your stories, I’ll tell you mine.
Tell me about that book you read, and why it moved you.
Tell me about your greatest teachers; the sharp and painful ones, the soft and kindly ones.
Sing a song for me. I'll sing for you, too. We'll compose something bright and new together in the offering.
Tell me about the time the birds rose en masse from the fields and trees, and their circling above brought you to tears of gratitude.
Tell me about the smells and sounds of the place you call home.
Tell me about your travels, in the world and in the mind.
Tell me about the one who broke your heart.
Tell me of the one who repaired it.
Let us make messy mistakes in communication, and survive them together.
Let us irritate and appreciate and challenge and inspire each other.
I will weep for your sorrows. I will celebrate your victories.
I promise.

Come, find me.

Come, be found.

Talking It Over, by Enoch Wood Perry, 1872

The Pride of Dijon, By William John Hennessy, 1879