Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

28 September 2009

Tuscany: Peasant Women, Café Men

Where do the solitary old women come from who, dressed in black, walk the back roads of Tuscany? It seems that whenever one drives in the country, at some point on the journey, at some time in the day, there will be one around the next bend, sometimes miles from any visible habitation.

Old fashioned women. Peasant women. 

Are they widows? Or are their men those who sit at the tables outside Barga’s Bar Onesti or similar village bars and cafés, reading tabloid newspapers, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and covertly appraising the luscious young raggazzi who toss their heads knowingly as they pass on the street?

Café men and walking matrons: I imagine them at home, couples living lives of grunted communication, each to their duties, love and lust spent, children grown and gone. They part company after breakfast, she to walk, he to male bonding at the café, both to return at day’s end to more grunts and a matrimoniale whose springs stopped groaning for joy years ago.

Some men retire early in Italy. I remember a young-looking chap whom we met, with his attractive wife, at the restaurant ‘La Mocchia’ who told us that he was retired from his job as a salesman at the age of fifty. He explained that once you’ve done thirty-five years of work you may retire no matter how old you are and collect a state pension. If that’s correct it’s a way of solving youth unemployment but what does it do to the psyche of the pensioner? Most people who retire don’t know what to do with their earned leisure; they and their minds wither.

But then again, early retirement may explain the intensively worked terraced smallholdings on the hills around the Garfagnana. I doubt that, ordinarily, they’d be payable propositions but if they serve to keep the retiree occupied, to supplement income, and to put home-grown food and wine on the table they make good sense. I think the master of Chiesetta No. 1, may have fallen into that category: he worked his slopes assiduously, especially those overlooking the pool of No. 2 around which the Inglesi women laid in the sun…

One sees some still-together pairs travelling side-by-side, sitting bolt upright in the confined cabs of Piaggios, those narrow three-wheelers low-geared enough to negotiate any track, any gradient. They’re used for everything, to carry goats, sheep, groceries, kids, tools, machinery - I’ve been held up behind one whose tray was so full of hay that it looked in imminent danger of overturning on the slightest bend but, like a mobile Leaning Tower of Pisa, made it all the way!

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