Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

22 August 2009

Girasole: The Sunflowers

All Umbria is yellowed by sunflowers and I have not yet photographed one. I ask Rita whether she knows where, nearby, there might be a field of sunflowers. She translates my question to Marco but he already knows it:

Girasole? He wants girasole? You want sunflower? Come.’

He gestures to me and to his friend Roberto to join him and walks briskly to his VW Golf Turbo. We take off through the gate, crashing over the metal cattle stop, leaving a spray of pebbles and dust behind. We scream down the lane as if trying to outrun the hound of heaven, Marco quietly dragging on a cigarette, arms extended to the steering wheel totally at ease in true Nuvolari fashion taking each bend as if we’re on a one-way street. At the earthquake house he brakes, arresting like a fighter landing on an aircraft carrier, to pick up a black-clad widow woman - a real, live solo black crow - to whom he murmurs in neighbourly fashion until we reach the lower outskirts of San Gemini whereupon he stops dead again.

I make to get out of the car to open the door for the woman but Marco restrains me, ‘She will make you talk.’ he whispers. No sooner is her door shut than we’re away, tyres squealing, to curve around the main road below the town out into open country on the road to Terni. At length we take a bend and there, to the right, and extending to low hills in the far distance is an ocean of yellow sunflowers.

‘You want girasole? You got girasole!’ Marco laughs and Roberto, too. ‘You come tomorrow morning. Beautiful pictures’.

I creep down the stone stairway. The garden air is night-cool. My sockless feet in smashed old boat shoes are wet with dew off the long grasses of the unkempt lawn. I run the car downslope until as far away from the house as possible then start the engine. Only then do I slam the door and drive through the rapidly lifting mist of the valley bed. Bells are ringing from several churches.

In the still air I photograph a sea of sunflowers running to a distant hedge of oaks against wooded hills. They are a surreal intensity of yellows and they seem to have an odd intelligence about them which is almost intimidating as they stare unblinkingly at the sun. ‘Girasole’ - turn to the sun - a word as beautiful in Italian as sunflower is in English. The blooms are enormous, perhaps up to forty-five centimetres in diameter, each identical to its neighbour with a fringe of frivolous petals around the geometric seed head which is the business of the flower. The bees are up early; some of my close ups will show them at work.

From ‘Antipasto’ random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy’


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By Don Donovan