The slow mood movement
I had thought he was dead.
The first time that I had seen the old man he had been sleeping in a chair near a tractor outside my cottage on the hill overlooking Florence.
Such was the busy-ness of my-life-left-behind that I automatically assumed a man sleeping during the day must be dead. Or pretty close to it.
I made sure not to wake him but admired his quiet repose as his head lolled in Italian dreaming. P.S. that is THE best kind.
I returned to my cottage to bathe half an hour later and he was no longer in the chair.
He was a good mover for a dead man.
After an afternoon bathing in warm Italian water and sipping sun-warmed Chianti, I made my way to the terrace for dinner.
The owners were hosting a local art exhibition of impressionist floral explosions in oil.
A glass of sweet, fizzy prosecco was generously slipped into my fingers and a salty puff of pastry stuffed with a cheese so creamy it seemed indecent to publicly consume, was proffered on a silver tray. I was encouraged to art-meander. Don’t mind if I do diggity-do.
Was Frank Sinatra playing somewhere?
I sashayed through the ancient, formally Medici-owned mansion taking in the floral art. And then I saw him. The dead man.
This time he wasn’t dead. He was rather sedentary but nestled in a velvet smothered high-backed chair.
His cataract gaze roamed empirically over the assembled Italians, as ice cubes over hot caramel.
I approached. His eyes flitted with familiar affection. How odd. He recognised me?
He began speaking as though we were resuming conversation; one of those long chess-board conversations where each participant knows exactly where they left it.
There was no greeting or introduction.
His fingers flitted like a butterfly in its death-throws as he regaled me with what seemed to be a tale of great importance.
He paused frequently to tenderly grasp my wrist and deliberate on the importance of a particular point.
I tried to pick up words. Nothing. Zip. Nada. But I happily ensconced myself in the exchange.
If a ninety year old Italian gentlemen wishes to impart something of importance to me well then I will do my darn best to listen.
His eyes were marbled and yet he seemed able to see.
He looked off into the middle distance and seemed to ‘see’ an entire world before him as if a film was showing behind curtains that had yet to slide back.
These same eyes glistened mossy green and teared with the beauty of his own descriptions. He clutched his head with both hands in passionate exclamation.
Perhaps he was detailing a past love, the war, lost youth? There I stood not able to understand a single word. Not one.
Evan, the young son of the family sidled up to me, his silky mop of chocolate hair tumbling in effusive sexuality across his brow. Darn Italians. Is there a single one of them that isn’t sex on legs?
Do you understand him? he asked. No. Not a word. Aaaah well he is talking to you about the day that he found a really big mushroom. Excuse me?
The old man’s eyes welled with tears at this point. It seemed that he realised that I now comprehended. And with that, he continued, a gushing of Italian words.
One helluva mushroom my friends.
It is incredibly familiar to my romantic soul to find others so enticed by simple pleasures and yet I don’t belong to these sentiments culturally.
Where I’m from, the cult of ‘busy’ is the one that brings us all the feeling that we are living the way we are meant to live. But it’s not. We are meant to take the time to cry about mushrooms and suck on cheesy pastries.
On the afternoon of my last day at the villa I saw him in the chair again. The one outside my cottage.
His lap was bridged with a red and white checked linen cloth. A great cluster of white beans were splayed in the space between his knees. He sat with a small knife peeling the tips. One by one.
I called ‘Buongiorno!’ but he didn’t seem to notice. Perhaps his ears were also going?
The heady scent that steamed from the lavender bushes was almost a physical barrier between us like a floral version of bank-teller glass. Or so I thought at the time.
But perhaps he was choosing to just be present with the beans. There was no need for insisting on the greeting, in any case.
Was I learning something?
Things the old Italian man had taught me without speaking my language… One: find time to sleep in the day. Two: talk as though you’re being really heard. Three: don’t let a lack of vision stop you from seeing.
Yup, he sure did have a few things cracked, my new Italian friend. Far from being dead, I think that this was a man who had found the art to truly living.
Isn’t it time we all submitted to the slow mood movement and learn to truly let go of pacing every day in the zoom zoom of busy-ness?
Yup. I think we all need to do that. Well that and enjoying a really big mushroom when we see one.