I was out early this morning to take photos of wild plants growing along the roadsides, simply because many of them are also used by organic wine-growers as cover crops/green manures for a variety of reasons e.g. plantain (prevents erosion as the leaves fan out and catch the rain like a tennis player catching a lobbed ball), wild oats (good for building organic matter in the soil = nice food for worms etc), various clovers & vetches (nitrogen-fixers, although clovers climb less than vetch but both prevent soil erosion as their leaves take the sting out of the rain), yarrow (attracts beneficial insects like hover flies) etc.
I wanted to get some pics for my next book, so left my Parson (or Jack if you prefer) Russell dog (Harry) and son (Arthur) at home so as not to be distracted.
But I stuck out like a sore thumb – a badly dressed Englishman (a tautology) in Italy with small English-bred dog [= bark, but no real bite….] – so was accosted, or rather engaged in conversation first by an Italian couple in gym gear (sweaty, with aromas to match; he very much from the south due to his accent like my Neapolitan bro-in-law; she from not sure where) who asked me what I was doing so I explained.
I carried on walking for about 50 metres then I got talking to an elderly gent who simply said ‘hello’ as I was kneeling down readying myself and camera for a shot of some Egyptian clover in flower (see photo).
But he stood his ground until I was forced to engage in conversation.
He worked at the village tile-, toilet/loo/lavatory- and wash-basin making factory (la ceramica in local parlance). My late father-in-law (along with most of the rest of the village) had also worked there, but I kept schtum about that because I was losing the light and desperately wanted to finish taking my photos [fail].
But we ended up talking about ‘il Brexit’ – the UK’s decision to leave or stay part of the European Union.
I said I hoped (as an Englishman – all 4 of my grandparents were English – Yorks, Dorset, Berkshire, Hampshire) the UK would vote to stay in.
I mentioned my father had fought in WW2 – in Italy, north Africa (listening to Rommel, literally) and various other places in intelligence (eg. Bletchley Park) – so Europe might stay free of silly, ideologically-driven conflicts that served no purpose but the ideologues.
My interlocutor neither agreed, nor disagreed (Italians are unlikely to put their cards on the table to complete strangers, let-alone badly dressed oddball foreigners kneeling down to take photos of yellow lupins…like this one…..).
But he did tell me about his experience in the village I now live in during the war. He remembered the Allied arrival in 1944, and the Bailey bridge they brought with them (the Germans blew the bridge over the Asso river whilst retreating); and the horrors he’d seen under the Occupation.
People being carted off [deported] from the local railway station, crammed into carriages so tightly even a factory-farmed pig would have squealed; & begging, begging, begging for water. “Acqua, acqua, vi prego per favore….”.
“I was a kid,” my interlocutor told me. “There was nothing I, or anyone else, could do. Apart from look on. And there was no water to give them anyway…”
He remembered walking past random dead bodies he’d come across in the countryside or even in the village. “You got used to it. As if it was a normal, everyday occurrence. OK, it’s a dead body. Another one. Like a dog turd. You’d just avoid treading on it, that’s all. It seems strange to say it like that, but….that was the reality. Then.”
And there was nothing to eat. He did not elaborate on this point. But he was clear that eating was something that sometimes happened but could not be planned for – unlike now.
He worked in the fields and on local farms – with grain, pigs, cattle etc. It was a hand-to-mouth existence. But working on a farm was hard (the hardest) work but by being closer to the food (source) you were guaranteed to eat. Something.
So between him and the people begging for food and water from the deportation truck he – like anyone else of his age and in his position – was going to look after Number One first.
I cannot, do not, and will not blame him. I’d do the same in that situation. Aside from the fact that if you offered food or drink to the deportees “they’d be hung alive upside down from the telephone wire. By morning of course they’d all be dead….”.
I cycled home. I did some gardening. I walked the dog. Again. I went shopping – new bicycle for our kid. Then supermarket. Frozen pizzas. Fresh organic fruit/veg/salad. Towel pad thingies, not rams. Not too much junk. Apart from the frozen pizzas. And cone-shaped ice creams. And “micro-filtered organic milk” (WTF?).
At least 7 different ethnic/religious groups in the Siena supermarket. Brits. Protestants. Catholics. Muslims. Italians. Kosovars. Aussies. Yanks. Africans. Jews. Hispanics. Serbians. Others = Us. [I don’t do religion at all in any shape or form. My partner is undefined. 10 years together and I have no idea where she stands re deities.].
But there were no Bailey Bridges to get to the check-out. Or strife in front of the meat-counter. Or adults screaming, begging to have their thirst slaked (babies yes–who were efficiently sated by either bottle or nipple; but adults, no). Just a bunch of very different people living/working together in harmony whilst exercising their own personal famine/strife-free choices.
Panty pads or tampons? Coke or Diet Coke? Halaal meat, regular meat, no meat at all? Sparkling bottled water. Still bottled water. Or no water at all (‘cos I get it on tap, at home)?
I’d rather be part of this type of demographic that be on my own some-lonesome. Which is what – I think – we’ll be if we Brexit.
I wanted to be on my own today taking pics. It did not work out like like (on my way home I bumped into the sweaty couple + dog again; they’d done a 4km walk in the time it took me to take 25 pics and listen to the WW2 veteran. It was a long convo. But not, in fact, long enough– I had to get home for my kid.).
But I was glad to have got out of my comfort zone. To have engaged with people who were very, very different from me. Perfect strangers.
But co-travellers. Different colours and creeds. Competitors, friends, antipathetic co-habitees.
Like wild plants happily co-existing or ignoring each other along the roadside of life.