Thursday, July 7, 2011

Stromboli, the island with a heart of fire.

I fell in love with this island.  I was meant to stay one hour but missed the boat and stayed two days.  I fell in love with the dark water. The dark streets at night that reveal the brightest stars. The smoke that clings like a halo to the top of the mountain. I fell in love with a dark rooftop and a circle of new friends.  Alleyways. Salt. White walls and jasmine.  Colors. Heat.  There must be something powerfully magic about a place where the fire of the center of the earth bubbles to the surface and plunges into the sea. There is a fire in my heart that simmers, quivers, breathes.  Sometimes it is a quiet warm pulse. Sometimes it is a dragon. Sometimes it erupts. The volcano that is Stromboli took a liking to my fire, and invited me to stay the night.  I could not refuse.  She took me under her wing and amidst the deep coolness of sea and stars she whispered a roaring affirmation to my heart.  Sparks, flames, lava, ash.  A brilliant desire erupts from the depths to meet the sea, and the water burns with light as it falls in love with the blaze.

Dance. Always dance.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

This is Francesco Maccarone.  The first time I saw him was when i was ordering a coffee in the morning, and he was leaning against the bar with one elbow, reading the newspaper and chatting with the barman about soccer.  We met later the same day when i was searching for a good pizza in the plaza outside of his house, and since we have become good friends.  He teaches me Italian, among other things, such as how to make pasta from scratch, where to find the best pizza in Tropea, and the importance of calling your mother every day.  He teaches me Italian proverbs that are useless but beautiful, the correct way to use a moka pot, and that above all else "la vita e bella", especially when you smile.

We speak for hours about farming, native american spirituality, riding horses, music, family, and dreams of flying.  Last night he told me the story of his grandfather, who was orphaned at the age of six and traveled alone on a boat from Naples to America to find his seven older brothers and two sisters who had left Italy when times were rough.  By the time he was sixteen he had found a brother and sister in America and three brothers in Argentina.  He returned to Calabria with one brother and they each got married to a pair of sisters from Tropea.  Francesco's grandfather was a gifted gardener, and bought a farm just out of town where he planted olive trees, fruit trees, and vegetables, and had four children.  Carmine was the only boy, and is Francesco's father.

As I sit and write, Carmine and Francesco are at the very same farm, working hard on last minute details to prepare it for summer guests who will begin to arrive in a couple days.  There are lemon trees, oranges, mandarins, olives, grapes, chickens, cats... a stable waiting empty for a dream of horses, and a crumbling old farmhouse that was built by Francesco's grandfather.  Carmine chose to study law and so never learned the art of gardening from his father before he passed away.  But Francesco is passionate about the earth, the farm, and growing his own food.  He is confident that his grandfather's blood runs strong through his veins and that with a little bit of determination, genetic intuition and experimentation he will succeed in reviving his grandfather's legacy, coax the farm into flourishing once again, and one day be able to feed his family and friends entirely from this plot of land by the sea.

Francesco wants to have eight sons and two daughters, with strong names like Cesare and Constantino, so that his grandfather's name, Maccarone, will not be lost.  He wants to teach them all to garden.  He wants them to be rich in food and family.  He wants them to smile and thrive.

On the surface this friend I have made is your stereotypical Italian youngster, who wears Armani and Hugo Boss cologne, smokes cigarettes and loves driving his car, eats dinner late around a big family table and goes out every night to make trouble with his amicis.  But he is also a true Calabrian with deep pride and passion.  He dreams of riding a horse through town, values family over all else in the world, and understands the urgency and importance of putting his hands and heart in the earth.

This afternoon I will meet Francesco at his grandfather's farm and help him to plant his first tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers in the ground.  Whether or not they whither or thrive the first time around I have no doubt that over time a grand garden will flourish and that dreams of hearty happy children playing in the olive groves will come to fruition.  What an honor to get my hands dirty today, and take part in one fleeting moment of this beautiful story of family, land and love.