July 26, 2012
DEBBIE TRAVIS' TUSCAN RENOVATION
A ROOM WITH A VIEW
I have never really had a view. Not a proper view. One that causes gasps from all that witness it. A view that allows you to sit for hours just staring, the same way you would gaze at a piece of art in a gallery.
As a teenager, our house in the north of England looked out on a field of sheep. This serene landscape did little for my teenage aspirations. In my twenties my flat on the King’s Road framed the bustling life of fashionable London. My condo in Toronto is actually fascinating because its large, modern windows stare straight into the grid of windows of yet another condo building. I have spent hours watching the lives of others as they play charades, fight with their loved ones, lounge around in bed and gesture throughout dinner parties. My home in Montreal looks out onto my lovely garden and my messy neighbour.
A picture post-card type view is something new to me. It’s mid-July and I am now alone in the dust and intense heat of a Tuscan summer, exaggerated by my massive renovation. We have a tiny apartment amidst the chaos which will eventually be knocked down and incorporated into the main house, but for now the workers bang, drill and sing around me. They also use their cell phones as if they were shouting at someone in the next town. My office is an old table and a few mismatched chairs and here I sit and try and work on my laptop.
The view is literally a postcard which I have seen on display in the local town. It contains an avid tourist’s must-have list of perfection. A medieval hilltop town, perfectly straight endless lines of vines of the deepest green and patches of silvery olive trees that sway to a secret dance in the constant breeze. In Tuscany, nature has been tamed by generations of farmers. No flowery gardens for them. Everything here can be eaten. Even the deep forest below me is a refuge to all kinds of wild life and an abundance of edible fungi, herbs and roots. A forager’s dream. All this is interspersed with fields of golden wheat. These are same the fields in which Russell Crowe bade a dramatic farewell to his family in the Gladiator. There is a domed cathedral, San Biaggio that dates back centuries and the quintessential rows of cypresses standing to attention along every crest of this sea of rolling hills. The view has it all, but it is the forever changing light that leaves me gobsmacked.
Early in the morning when there is the slightest crispness to the air, before the heat of day takes over, the valley has waves of mist that float above the ground. This mystic time doesn’t last long. Before my first cup of coffee, the sun takes it’s firm position of the day and the land basks in her fervour. By mid afternoon when the entire population of people and animals is hiding from the heat during their siestas, the ground seems to quiver and shimmer. My favorite light is as the day begins to come to an exhausted yet lazy end. The carpet of shapes across the landscape are illuminated in saturated colour. The sun sets behind our property which at first saddened me. It would have been perfect if I could end the day with that burning heat going down over the castle but then I realized that I get something even better.
Suddenly the sun reflects in certain windows angled just right in the old town on the hill across the valley. Montepulciano lights up every evening in the golden light of a thousand candles. It is mesmerizing to watch but as soon as it appears it is gone and a bluish light washes over the valley and then darkness lit only by the brightest stars and the odd twinkling lights from the farms. It has taken me many years, but I now have a room with a view.