Tuscan Memoir

Tuscan Memoir

Memory can be a slick shyster … a Monte Bank adept at shuffling our recollection of events, be they ghastly or awesome. Really gruesome events remain vivid for a time and then, if we are lucky, fade and lose their sharp edges. They are no less powerful, but their grip eases as our lives move on and we allow other events to merge and occupy our thoughts. Important dates are lost, and meaningful experiences only come to mind when recalling something else entirely.

Why then do certain wonderful memories remain fixed and unchanging, when other remembered pleasures meander hither and yon becoming mixed up with alternative dates and times? Favored memories, like an expensive pair of old leather shoes, are constantly polished and kept in good repair. They have acquired a lovely patina, while others take but one trip down memory lane and become beat up, cracked, and cloudy. Those memories we most cherish, can become increasingly vivid with time, and shimmer with a kind of radiance, as others fade gracefully into the long-ago-and-far-away reaches of the mind. Perhaps the favored few are the fragments we cling to because they represent those rare moments of absolute joy. 

Such are my favorite familiar memories of Tuscany. And, while I have a huge dump of photos from my travels there, no album of photographs can replicate the images that I bring to mind when I think of Italy. Rather, those images are a form of memoir … mental snapshots and brief videos of tiny little twisty roads overlooking endless vistas wrapped in a haze of color and texture … a landscape of visual satisfaction. 

It is not a lush landscape, nor is it tidy. Alongside rows of olives and grapes, the earth is scuffed-up and the grass snarled, wild and uncut. Small outbuildings appear abandon, and look to be slowly dissolving into the earth. Dust kicks up and settles over everything in the hot sunshine. Only the occasional dog barking breaks the silence. There is a somnolence that envelops everything, and creates a sense of inertia.  Altogether, it should not reflect a sense of peace and abundance, but it does. The landscape fits like a well-made and beautifully lined garment, clinging in all the right places and disguising any and all unsightly bits and pieces. Your eye is drawn to dwell only on the glorious vistas, and the exuberant life that springs from that dusty scruffy earth.

It is an old landscape … the same fields of olives and grapes that we see today, appear in the background of almost every Virgin and Child or Adoration of the Magi painted during the Renaissance. Long-ago spires of pines are seen to stand vigil against the elements even then. And just as an exclamation mark adds excitement to a line of text, the lovely fingers of cypress add visual energy to the mundane world of olive trees and vineyards. It is as if time past has come forward to welcome you to Tuscany.

So it is that I find myself, years away and unable to travel, calling up those images that are full of remembered joy. In the past when painting, photographs gave me my reference points. But I now find myself working to capture more ephemeral images … those bits and pieces that speak to me from the recesses of my memory. Those I see so vividly, polished by the passage of time, reveal why it is that I want to return.  

2 Replies to “Tuscan Memoir”

  1. I love your prose and descriptive phrases. Of course, your paintings too.
    Hope you are just dandy. I am in a good place.
    A successful knee replacement done in February.

  2. Wonderful scene depicted in your painting. The colors and shadows are spectacular. When I first saw the painting, my “ever so reliable” memory took me directly to the driveway at our grandparent’s farm in Marengo, Iowa. Instead of pine trees, their drive/lane was edged by poplar trees (even nowadays, very common in farm country).

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