Friday, 23 November 2012

Time is a strange thing

A couple of weeks ago I lost a dear friend, Adam, to lung cancer. 
His illness and death were quick, and as we were separated by oceans during his last weeks I am struggling to believe it’s real.  Then today another good friend sent me a photo of our gang, together less than a year ago in a country pub on the south coast of NSW.  Looking at the photo of Dave, Linda, Adam, Jenny and I – actors I trained with at drama school and who mean the world to me – I am transported back in time to see Adam on stage performing… Adam young and virile… Adam full of warmth and energy… Adam playing the guitar… Adam doing the salsa with a hip-swivel most white guys don’t possess… Adam on the rocks with his fishing-rod… Adam jumping out of a plane and running across the field toward his friends and family with a smile of achievement and exhilaration on his face… and for a moment he is so vivid and close I am back there… not with the loss but with him. 

Thoughts about time recall a passage I’d like to share from my (as yet unpublished) manuscript Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues 



Time is a strange thing; memories too.  Only weeks ago I was kissed in the Milano moonlight by a rugged Swede.  A little over twenty years ago I walked the streets of Florence.  As I return to Firenze, as the Italians more correctly call it, both scenes are now vivid; a million things forgotten in between.

How can it be that our mental library rewinds so accurately at times, opening the image file without hesitation, even if we’d rather it didn’t?  Yet on other occasions we can’t find where we stored details of something we thought we’d never forget?  Random I suppose.

Today excitement seems to have shaken the memory loose, like a rapid reboot after a file lay previously frozen.  Perhaps the file is corrupted, only partly saved, but what has been salvaged is now there in front of me, demanding attention.

Of Firenze twenty years ago I don’t recall who I met… but crystal clear is the excitement of actually being there, of walking across Ponte Vecchio, of taking a bus to an out-of-town hostel and, most startling, the picture of myself as a spirited, young woman.  How can so much time have passed, yet I feel so little changed?  How can I be hardly more grown up yet so much older?  That is time’s mystery and magic. 

In this moment I move toward Firenze with the same hope and excitement of bygone years.  It’s taken me only forty minutes to arrive by car from my house in the olive grove, with air-conditioning and CD blaring Puccini.  My clothes are cleaner and there’s no back-pack, but I feel much like the same girl. 

I ditch the car at Porta Romana, to avoid what I’ve been warned are extreme fines for driving into the no-traffic zone, and walk along the old city wall to Piazza T. Tasso.  After turning right up Via del Campuccio, in a few hundred meters I get the feeling I should turn left.  The first voices I hear are American and they confirm my suspicions that where I want to go is off to the right of Via dei Serragli upon which I’m now strolling.  These back streets are quiet not only because locals are away on holidays but because I’ve arrived, intentionally, during siesta.  My inner tempo increases with anticipation and then suddenly I’m there – at the River Arno. 

Moving quickly towards Ponte Santa Trinita I lean over the side and look up stream to the one and only Ponte Vecchio.  The famous bridge -  designed in 1345 by either Giotto’s pupil, Taddeo Gaddi, or, as more recently believed, by Neri di Fioravante -  is exactly as I recall.  Yet until that second I could not have properly described it.  It’s as if a fog in my brain is slowly lifting, recognition fighting the cobwebs of clutter to rejoin the dots of experience past.  I can do nothing but stare.  Caught in a time-warp even taking a photo seems glib.  I then surprise myself by being consumed by two competing sensations: one a sense of privilege that I’ve returned, when so many have not had the pleasure; the other, a little sour grapes that it’s taken me so long.  I laugh at my greed.  And also my hording instincts, for after all this time I still posses a musty old Firenze map with highlights circled; so sure was I then, that I’d be back much sooner. 

Eventually I do take photos of course.  Then I approach Ponte Vecchio from the northern side.  Pretty jewelry displays fill every shop window.  Was it so twenty years ago?  I don’t remember.  I soon learn that indeed it was: for the butchers, tanners and blacksmiths who operated from the bridge originally, were thrown out by Duke Ferdinando I in 1593 for creating too much noise and stench.  Back and forward along Ponte Vecchio I wander, luxuriating in the fact that there’s no hurry.  Nor does it matter that it’s Monday and museums are shut, as I plan to visit Firenze over and over again.  I feel rich with opportunity, and my Tuscan hat provokes conversation. 

Next I wander along the Archibusieri, the corridor adjacent to the river, until I find myself looking straight under the arches of the infamous Uffizi Gallery.  I smirk to see I had scribbled the names of favourite paintings on the back of my precious map.  And I wonder if my experience of them now will be as satisfying?  I walk in circles around Piazza della Signoria still reveling in the lack of need to rush.  A talented guitarist adds to the atmosphere, playing classical augmentations of well-known pop songs.  Friends laugh at my fondness for John Denver - cemented after going to a live concert not long after my father died and finding him of immense comfort.  What would they think of hearing Annie’s Song in the middle of Firenze?  I can see Brunelleschi’s Dome poking up over buildings in the distance but decide to save the duomo’s delights for later.  Instead I walk toward Basilica di Santa Croce, stopping on the opposite side of the piazza to stare at the white stone façade glistening in the strong afternoon light.  Churches of this size really do need a large space in front of them, for one of the things that makes the Duomo in Milano and the Vatican in Rome so special is the life going on around them.  At any rate you can’t absorb the grandeur with one or two glances, so I plonk myself down in the shade happy to eat an apple and watch tour-groups bustle…

After hours of indulgent wandering in the vicinity of Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza San Marco, I finally make my way back across Ponte Vecchio toward my car.  On the south side of the river I drive around to Piazzale Michelangelo.  Sinking into splendid views over the city and river, Brunelleschi’s Dome sparkling in early evening sun, I am soon refreshed by the gradually-cooler air and the music provided by buskers, one strumming a Ukranian dulcimer. 

After driving back to my new home in the Tuscan olive grove, I then top off an invigorating day by preparing a salad with tomatoes, basil and peppers picked freshly from the garden near my cottage.  Combined with pane, olio e parmigiano reggiano this is about as good as it gets, and I walk up the hill to the pool with a bottle of Chianti under my arm and the scent of freshly-cut basilico in my nostrils.  The key to this country living, I’m fast realizing, is going to be to mix it up - alternating between bustling town and social experiences, with quiet time for reading, writing and swimming. 

A new wave of contentment washes over me. 
(Copyright: Julie Mullins)