There is a rhythm to life in a small medieval Italian village.  The seasons pass as they do elsewhere, but slowly and distinctly.  High notes and low notes.


The autumn highs are marked by harvests and festivals, with incredibly clear blue skies and starlit nights.  The air is fragrant with wood-smoke, olives being pressed, and the fermentation of vin santo grapes.  Shutters open to early morning breezes and ethereal mists crouching low in the valley.


Voices rise from the street in a harmony of excitement, anticipation and pleasure.  Birdsong, church bells, the sultry hum of cicadas, the laughter of children, all contribute to this seasonal symphony. 



The harsh arrival of the low notes startles.  Wind forces its fingers through the cracks and crevices of the ancient buildings and whistles for attention.  Stones turn cold and damp.  Bare feet tiptoe across the frigid floor. 


The windows frame angry gray clouds pouring rain on the thirsty hills.  Shafts of sunlight tease fallow fields with a moment of warmth, a golden gift.  Shutters stay closed keeping Nature’s dissonance out.  Sounds from the street are few.  Staccato voices low and quick.   



Andante, andante, the concert continues with a reprise.  The music lifts once again to the glorious high notes, never truly out of reach, always on the next page. 


The rhythm in a small village continues as it has for centuries.  Ruled by the seasons and Nature, its destiny of high notes and low notes a perpetual reminder of the dance of life.



Gail Hecko

December 2008


Returning to Italy...


My heart is full of remembrance.


The images behind my eyes are slowly coming into focus.

Images that will be fully seen in a few short days: 

The impossibly blue wedges of sky, the glorious green of Spring,

The silver slices of olive leaves, earth the color of sienna,

The ancient buildings standing proudly in their sameness through the centuries,

Stinging my eyes with tears from their beauty.


I will return to the fragrance of coffee like no other,

The scents of rosemary, basil, and lavender in the air,

And of meals being prepared behind shuttered windows.

The tastes of wine with a history, of cheese aged in the valley nearby,

Of thick pasta rolled by a nonna’s practiced hand,

Will mingle with the freshness of vegetables from the garden.


Soon the rhythmic language that makes my ears sing, 

Will surround me like a dance of words.

The cathedral bells will toll their song back into my soul,

And I will feel a peace and harmony I feel nowhere else.


The dear faces of friends, some from years past, some newly discovered,

Will fill me once again with pleasure and joy.


All my senses will awaken from their dream, and I will feel at home in my heart.



May 2008

Those Italian hands...
A silent voice, the hands of an Italian seem the extension of thought and feeling. Whether explaining detail, expressing outrage, or extolling the virtues of love, they speak with eloquence and grace. And sometimes comedy and crudity. The whole body is involved in the passing of information and nothing is held back.
You get it. 
The rhythmic Italian language is accompanied by a dance of gestures as old as the culture and as new as the iphone.

The little bench in the shade is the stage, the circle of friends the audience, and the play begins. I like to sit and watch, sometimes sneaking a picture or two, wishing I could understand all the words and the hands spoken.

One day, our guide Pino was shepherding our group up the steep hill in Montepulciano, and I was lagging behind him stopping to take pictures of everything. A small truck was inching down the narrow cobbled street in front of us. It came to a sudden lurching stop. Pino reached into the window across the passenger seat and grabbed the face of the young driver in delight. They kissed cheeks through the window and both were talking and smiling excitedly, constantly touching each other's face in pure genuine affection. I thought it must be a relative. When I asked, he said, "A former student of mine...from the Agricultural School."

What is it about Italians that makes us want to embrace them? The old nonna at the Contrada dinner giggling and blushing like a schoolgirl at the bawdy jokes of the Entertainer. The round-cheeked Baby Julia eating heartily and smiling generously in response to the cooing of everyone within 20 feet of her. The shy shopkeepers in the village, waiting patiently for us to find the right Italian words to tell them what we need - candles, bus tickets, wine, bread - and helping us when we can't.

This heartfelt kindness toward us, and sincere affection for each other, simply radiates. I think we have a deep desire to be a part of this giving and receiving, this joyful spontaneity, and this guileless expression of feeling. 



The shopkeepers are so friendly to stranieri (foreigners). In Montisi, Signora Ricci's narrow little store with hardly more than one-of-each on her dusty shelves, also sells the freshest produce from her garden, and bus tickets to Siena. One time when we bought her last ticket, she wrote a note on a scrap of paper for us to give the driver to inform him. When we pantomimed "candle", she smiled and taught "candela!".  When all the markets were closed for a holiday, she opened hers so my guests would have something for breakfast.

One early evening we drove to the nearby village of Lucignano d'Asso to a little shop to gather dinner supplies. Accordion music was wafting from the string-bead covered doorway. The old shopkeeper was serenading his sweetheart. We chose tomatoes, pasta, meloni, fresh prosciutto, wine from their own cellar, pecorino cheese, and Tuscan bread - "No, no, you want this one for bruschetta!" (in Italian, of course). Mama and Papa weighed and counted and totaled our purchase on a piece of paper, all the while smiling with encouragement at our feeble Italian. By the time we left with buona seras and grazies and ciaos all round, we wanted to hug them and kiss their cheeks.

(Southern women are like that, you know.)

These kind, gentle people tug at my heart. I think having to communicate in such a basic way makes us really see each other, and really appreciate what that person is doing for us.  Something I think we have lost in our busy world. 

Children in Italy...
It is the sweetness, the innocence, the cherubic quality straight from a Renaissance painting that is the heart and the hope of the family.

It is a wise woman who travels to Italy with a child. Seats on trains and tables in restaurants appear as if by magic, instant friendships are formed, and extra arms are available at every turn.
To an Italian, priceless treasures of art pale in comparison to the value of a child.

Cheeks are softly touched and roundly kissed. Whispers of "Che bella! Che bello!" (what beauty! how handsome!) are bestowed upon each delightful and delighted little face.
Children are always welcomed, day or night, inside or out, yours or theirs, just for the very precious beings they are.



Tuscan Dawn



Each dawn the sun releases the ancient hilltops from their nightly sentinel. 


The golden light pours slowly down the hills and settles into the valleys for a moment here, a moment there.  The smallest blade of grass shifts slightly to receive its full share of nurturing warmth.  Houses glow with the tones of the earth and the farmer's dance with the land begins anew.


Shadows soften as the sun moves on, revealing shady pastures and sleepy-headed sheep.  Birds sing with the tolling bells.  Shutters swing open with a creak and an iron clang as they are locked into place.  The mist gently lifts and disappears with the moon into the blue sky.


In Italy when a child is born, it is "dato alla luce", given to the light.  For thousands of years, each day the land is given to the light and is born again.


Gail Hecko





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