I have quite a few friends who are older than me here in Tuscany.
Yesterday I dropped in on my ninety-nine-year-old gentleman friend. He was sitting on his bench in the shade. At his feet were a couple of dogs and a kitten rested nearby. It was very hot, and the flies were pestering him, and I helped bat them away.
He started to tell me of the time when he was a prisoner in Libya during the war. How sweltering it was during the night; how little water he had to drink. Sometimes he remembers a word or two of English, because he was in Nottingham for more than six years, working on a farm as a prisoner-of-war, and I take him shortbread biscuits to nibble on. He also remembers rice pudding with fondness… His son turned up at lunch time, having spent the morning searching for mushrooms and I said my goodbyes. Each time, I wonder when the last will be, but at least his stories will live on in my next book.
I love that Simon and Garfunkel song, “Bookends”. When it came out in the 60s, I was a teenager and I can remember agreeing with the line,” how terribly strange to be seventy”. But that age is not too far away for me now and my precious, elderly friends are in their nineties.
I cherish them and their words. Bruno says he feels fine inside, but it’s his body that lets him down. I could spend hours listening to my old friends. They know I like writing and they are pleased to share their experiences. Bruno is appearing in my next Tuscan book, disguised with another name and with slightly different adventures. (It is with my Bookouture editor at the moment.) Watch this space, as they say.
Ida (in her eighties) was making pasta by hand when I dropped in on her two days ago.
She used to live in the mill that we let out to guests; she has shared many details with me and they made their way into The Tuscan Secret. As a little girl she also travelled down to the Tuscan coast with her parents on the annual transumanza, to take sheep and cows to better pastures over the winter months. That is a way of life that has disappeared and, thankfully, our local tourist office is recording memories of our elderly folk before they are forgotten. We tend to romanticise the past, but most of them would not wish the hardships they endured on this generation. See Now and Then in Tuscany for more details.
One thing that the elderly do miss nowadays is the conviviality that used to exist in the community. Neighbours sat with each other in the evenings, chatting, mending, sharing tips and advice. Now, the television blares forth and people don’t venture into each other’s houses so much. The veglia has all but disappeared.
At lunch today, Maurice and I shared a feast with another elderly friend in the old house where she was born.
[Evalina is on the right]
In the past, Evalina always catered, but she’s ninety-three now and frailer. So, we took along the food and wine instead, introducing a couple of dishes from Britain – including lemon drizzle cake. Afterwards, we sat in the shade of her plum trees that buzzed with insects, and she talked of the past. I lap it all up like a kitten with a huge saucer of cream.
They are all tiny of stature and I am tall even by English standards. “What’s the weather like up there?” they joke, and they call me “skyscraper”. I take it as a form of affection. I am certainly fond of them.
I won’t quote the Bookends song in full that I love, because I’m not sure about copyright, but look up the words some time, about the old friends, the winter companions… waiting for the sunset…
And, bless our elderly!