As I walk, with every step, there is a small cloud that rises ahead of me, a cloud of crickets or grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, flies and other creatures. The clay is damp but not wet – any more.
I have the wrong sort of shoes. Why didn’t I bring my blue dog-walking shoes with me, I wonder? Because they are split on the sole and no good in the rain – which is why they can remain dog-walking shoes now I live in Milan.
We are going down, always down. This has no aim, this is just because it is there. I am reminded of Herefordshire, reminded of when I was a kid – but a proper kid – with the walks on my own, solitude, silence.
Only not really silence. I hear the chirp of the crickets/grasshoppers except it’s not a chirp at all really, I think. It’s like someone with a paper and comb but playing it badly, it would be out of tune if there were a tune to begin with.
I hear the tractors in the field, two or three fields away and how they always seem to be in too high a gear. I hear a blackbird and another bird – a thrush, maybe? I used to know these things. What happened to that?
I watch the cloud of rising insects with each pace, them rising before, it seems, my foot has even touched the ground as if they are driven by some instinct that stops the giant treading on them and squishing them into the soft but hardening mud. I look at the plants I am treading on. They seem familiar but not familiar enough. I see something that looks like cow parsley but isn’t (the leaves are wrong), something with a yellow flower, again, I should know what that was – not the Latin but the common name. I see some thistles, except they aren’t.
I wonder why, here, the blackberries are so small, so unappealing. I decide it is because there is not enough rain for them. I remember blackberry picking – when I was young and when I was older – young, when my mother would make blackberry and apple pie and older when I would or, I would be a little more adventurous and do blackberry and apple crumble or somesuch thing.
The sun is on my back as we walk down and it is hot enough for me to take my T-shirt off. Well, it was given to me as a T-shirt but V explained that it wasn’t really, it was a vest but it was simple and white and thin and would double as a T-shirt for me. And it does. But now it has to come off. We are a long way from civilisation so no one will see my old flesh that was hidden beneath this young clothing. Except we’re not actually a long way. 2 minutes from the house on the hill, with the glorious view over the hills around. And the valleys. This could be Herefordshire but they haven’t quite finished it yet. There are some things missing, as if it’s a ‘work in progress'; a beta copy.
I turn for a moment to look at the house on the hill, just down from the owner’s father’s place (which has a tower, so it must have been important). The house looks all wrong – as it is, here, perched on this hill. It should be more Tuscan, even if we-re not in Tuscany. Or like the one I’m heading for, all red brick with the red/orange roof made of half terracotta drain pipes (or that is how it seems).
No, this house is grey. Grey stone, beautifully finished and yet as incongruous in this scene as if it were made of corrugated iron. At the side they have a ‘guest suite’, where I am staying. The guest suite looking as if it was tacked on as an afterthought, it being only wood and grey wood at that and square and ugly and squat. And I wondered why they did that and who thought that would be a good idea. Afterwards I think that the guest suite looks more like a prison than anything else.
And I imagined the locals talking about before, during and after it was built, as they would do in Herefordshire. Saying how it didn’t seem right, that it didn’t fit in, etc. But I doubt if that happened here. I look to the left and see another ugly house. Even the father’s house, with the tower, looks wrong.
But this house, with the huge picture windows, the decks (which I could call terraces, since we are in Italy, but since the woman is American and since they are wooden, are, in fact, really decks) with some metal fencing/netting that seems almost as if it could be barbed wire – to keep them in or keep others out? – this house, somehow it’s all wrong, in spite of it’s ‘fabulousness’.
Dino, not used to these type of walks, stops and looks back, checking that I’m still going on, coming on; Rufus, seemingly uncaring about whether I am coming or not but he would be back soon enough if I turned tail. I continue. Dino waits to make sure I really am coming and then lopes off towards Rufus.
I think, idly, about the fact that this is downhill and, at some point I have to come back again, meaning up hill and that I wished it were the other way around.
I see some pretty pink flower. It’s an orchid, I’m sure. I feel I should regret the fact that the knowledge I once had has gone but don’t, knowing that was a different time, a different life – it might as well be a different century. I am different from that. I think of my ‘love’ and wish I could share it with him but know that I cannot and could not.
We hit the ‘road’. Not a road but a dirt track, the sort where only a tractor or 4×4 would pass. They hit the road first. The sun still on my back and warming and pleasant. I watch a Red Admiral on the ground except I know that it is not, too orange and the spots, too many and in the wrong place. I had a book once……
I pass the sign that says this is a private road, having to turn round to look behind me at what it says. This is their land anyway. We turn right at the ‘junction’. The road continues down, slightly better now. More gravely, less muddy, flatter with fewer gorges carved out by the rains. We make our way down to the building that looks like a house. I cannot see the house on the hill now. It is only me and the dogs and the nature. So much nature. Too much?
I hear the screech of a buzzard or kite or something and scan the sky, shielding my eyes from the full glare of the sun, to find the black thing in the sky but unable to tell what it is, having lost that knowledge too. It’s only been a few years!
I feel the urge to pee and wonder if that is because we are hidden from almost everyone, alone, secret – or, if it because I really need to pee. I decide it is the former in the same way as, earlier, I thought how good it would be to take all my clothes off and walk naked even if I would not, for fear of meeting someone, by chance on the same walk as me. I don’t pee.
The red brick place beckons. I was told it was a place for storing tractors but, as we near the place, it is a little too tidy for that. There is a fence round, not a pretty fence or hedge, as there would be in Herefordshire, but an ugly, green, link fence, high and just to keep things out or in, who knows? It will be nice when it’s finished.
The garden, although hidden by trees, is a garden, I’m sure. I have a sense about it. Maybe it’s the pruned rose bush just outside. This cannot be just a place to store tractors even if that’s what I was told, I decide.
The dogs are ahead and hidden, behind the link fence. I wait, knowing that they will come back, not wanting to shout them and make our presence known. Dino appears. I knew he would be first. We wait for Rufus, only because, if he doesn’t see me, he might get frightened and disappear back up the hill to the house.
We walk down, into the field and round the front of the house/store. I look up. The reddy/brown, paint-peeled shutters are closed but there are geraniums in their vivid red glory up at one of the windows. The left part of the house is, indeed, a store – for hay – although the hay looks several years old, falling from the first floor like the store is some sort of scarecrow, badly stuffed.
Between us and the house/store is the vegetable patch, sunk below the site of the house and everything covered in netting but large enough that you can walk underneath it.
We reach a line of trees, a border to the house. The house is proper for this place, the red brick, the brown/red shutters, the red pipe-tile roof. This is Italy. I could live here when they’ve finished it. When the ugly fence is replaced with hedges and everything seems neater and more in order.
The trees hide a gully, a gully without water but there must be water sometimes, lots of water. It is steep to go down. My feet, already feeling the effects of not having the right shoes on this impromptu walk, are not for climbing down the gully, however inviting it might look.
We skirt the gully, following its path down the hill, towards the wood. Still in the sun, still in the warmth. We reach the bottom and there is, through the trees, another field. Rufus is already there, Dino following close behind.
It goes further down and I think this is nearly enough. I stop and they come back.
I think of how V never really liked the countryside, never understood, never was amazed by the wonder of it. It is something I would have liked but another of those things which, even if he did come with me, we never really shared. I think of someone else. And, at that point I realise that I will, probably, almost certainly, never share it with him either but for very different reasons even if, in my mind at least, it would be possible to share and wonder at it all.
We start our trek back. I regret, for a moment, that it is all uphill. I contemplate lying on the grass, in the sun, smoking a cigarette, enjoying the peace and the noise. But this land isn’t quite finished yet, and there is no nice place just to sit or lie. In a few years, perhaps? No, never. It will never be quite ready for me.
I think of the house. The dining table and chairs, from, maybe the 1800s, with the modernistic fantasticnous of the house – all wrong, not thought out and, yet, probably not seen that way, not understood – in the same way as the countryside is not understood since money doesn’t need to understand this stuff, just to tame it and get other people to make it theirs. Marvelling at the view without actually seeing the Red Admiral that wasn’t, the gully cut through the earth by such power, the blackbird singing in the tree, the crickets creating this moving walkway.
As we walk back onto the second “road” and up, the trees, I hadn’t noticed them before, rustling with the wind I hadn’t noticed before, and creating a green silver shimmer that I hadn’t noticed before.
We cut across to the house. The guest suite with the shower that is as big as my whole bathroom, where the temperature set was constant and the shower head, huge, in the centre of the room, making rain on me. The splashes from my body, at home seeming to go through the shower curtain to dampen everything within reach, here hardly touching the walls of the shower.
I think of the villages and towns we passed through or round and how pretty they should be but there is that slightly unkempt feel to everything as if they are working on it but haven’t quite finished it yet. Oh, won’t it look so pretty in a few years?
We reach the house, traipsing through the almost-dry mud to get there, the house almost finished, the ‘garden’ certainly not. It will be a nice house when it’s finished. Not to live in, of course, just to come and stay for a few days, marvel at the view, at the vacuum system that is central, just hoses to plug into the walls, at the shower room ‘as big as my house’, at the hob that can’t work unless you know the secret way to use it, at the huge beam, supporting the house, that wasn’t seasoned before it was used, so drips resin on the wooden floors with their grey eco-coating, at the blandness but expense of it all as if it were trying to be understated but, simply by its design, cannot be.
Yes, Italy, it will be lovely when it’s finished. I must come back again when everything is right.