fig budIt is 25 degrees Celsius. Even the bees languish in the Umbrian sunshine. Twelve women and men have come to this peaceful place set among quiet green mountain slopes write, to stretch, to commune, to feast, and to reacquaint themselves with their authentic voices.

Each morning, we lengthen our muscles and tendons, and lubricate our joints with gentle suggestions from Esana, fill our bellies with yoghurt and cake, fruit, cereal and coffee, and then dip our pens into our own pulses and put their tips to the page. 

What struck me deeply from the very first day is that this is an electric group of writers, fiercely, tenderly, trustingly brave. Writing in such company has the effect of making everyone’s writing more powerful.

On the second day, our writing facilitator, Sue Reynolds, gave us small journals to carry with us; journals to jot down impressions, snapshots of experience. She advised us to notice, pay attention – to even the most mundane, the least significant detail of our afternoon, and to take note. In the evening we gathered after another spectacularly delicious meal to share some of what we’d written.

The following is my journal entry:

Growth. New growth. Sharp green things in the dirt. Weeds that look like flowers, and are, in fact. It is the weeds- pretty, sharp, bitter – that we don’t want, but the fact is, it is they who grow first, fast and are the strongest of plants. They withstand high winds, ice storms, floods, and – I was going to say: the certainty of snow, but I have come to realize that the only certainty in life is life’s death… and even then I am not entirely sure about death either.

Joseph Campbell said something to the effect that once you have known a person they continue to be alive for you. Again, I was going to say: for all time. But I think that may have been his point – about time, I mean.

In this moment there is Julie in a blue top, her bare heels rocking back and forth on an iron chair as she swings on the worn wooden rocker. There is Marisa in a black sun dress dozing cat-like in the hot afternoon sun, and Esana in her purple top itching to walk, walk, walk up and down these steep green hills. There is Mike in the shade with Stephen King, and a repairman in Marisa’s bathroom. Brian arrives, white biking cap, orange tee shirt, ready for our walk to Valfabbrica.

arm artAt the cafe I connect the freckles on the tender part of Brian’s arm, making a constellation. Then he’s off – urging me, adding swirls and dots, embellishing, and encouraging me to take a chance.

It’s the things growing that take me – pull me to the roadside, their buds so small I think the branches bare. It’s the bright yellow-green of beginnings, the red dash like a spice in the tangle of winter’s green. In speaking of our newly forming togetherness, I once wrote, what do we call this green, growing thing? Half a year in I don’t yet have the answer.

I find other answers in the tight buds on the tips of branches with their promises of flower, fruit, and rot, too. I do go to the rot, especially in moments when the paint chips, revealing a glimpse of the same decay I see in my own reflection. Demise. Surely. But I don’t really believe that. Not when I take off my boxing gloves and pull my gaze away from the magnifying mirror.

Pistachio. Instead of Nocciola or the ever-pleasureable Chocolate. And limone today, too. Bright, crazy bright limone.

Maybe I’m too tired for this. Lying in bed for hours, my heart shaking from too-late espresso and three glasses of celestial wine. Too tired to sleep.

There’s a woman washing windows. She goes up the three steps on her stool to reach the high places, descends and dips her squeegee into a red plastic bucket. This plaza is right on the main road from Gubbio to Assisi. I remembered there was a cafe here and now we have cups of gelato.

When we came to the corner I remembered our trip to Gubbio last year with the taxi drivers Marco and Stefano, how they shouted at each other on their cell phones as we drove, then stopped right at that corner, Stefano at Marco’s window, left arm jabbing east, Marco shouting back, his right arm flung close to my chest pointing south, all five of us in that cab laughing. Because we didn’t care. We were in Italy in green-gold hills surrounded by the soft silvery grey of olive trees and rows of bare twisted vines that would soon produce the nectar of wine, and we had written stories that were good and stories that were funny and stories that made us cry, and we’d stretched our bodies every morning and sipped thick dark coffee and we were happy. Stefano was long and wiry, his smile full of wonderfully straight teeth, his narrow hips and blue-jeaned legs so sure of the way. And Marco with his smooth coppery skin.The signal was flipped. I don’t remember who won, but we got to Gubbio, climbed an extremely high hill, rode down the hill in a green metal gondola laughing most of the way, and sat in a ruined amphitheatre as the sun set.

A story was conceived that afternoon at this very corner. This intersection of east and south with its curved walls is where my character Guilia made her irreversible decision. She turned towards Perugia, even though she told Marco she was going to Gubbio. A moment like that – one never knows how it might drop like a tick and burrow right into your skin. Even if you pick its blood-bloated body off it will dig itself in. Maybe this moment right now is such a moment. Barry White on the PA system, empty tropical-looking gelato cups with their clear plastic paddles on a black plastic table beside a highway, with a phone I can’t use and sunglasses reflecting the afternoon pinks of the buildings across the street and Brian with art we created together all up his forearm.

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On the long winding walk down here we constructed a piece of art along the road with slices of tree trunk, weeds, dried grasses, moss covered sticks and the purple bud of a thorn. We will have to pass it on our return. It was fun until it changed, one piece I’d placed torn away and broken to bits. No one explained the rules. Perhaps there are no rules, none that really count, none I would likely follow anyway.

road art