La bella Iowa?

So this afternoon, following a morning of errands, I tackled the yard again: grass-cutting, edging, cleaning off the sidewalk, and then weeding, till my clothes were completely soaked with sweat. I mean, even my socks.  And my old yard sneakers.  Tomatoes have rocketed up and out, putting on green fruit like crazy, necessitating some tucking-in and roping-up of big straggling branches.  Tonight, the air is so hot and humid that my windows are fogged from the contact between the air conditioner and the outside, every one.  By the time I called it quits – left the wheelbarrow of weeds right where it was and came in and cleaned up – I was starting to feel what old Southern folks call “the bear gettin’ me.”

Mellowness was the order of the rest of the afternoon.  Since it was getting on to dinner, I poured some cold white wine and gathered a basket full of four of the six different kinds of basil I’m growing this year, whirled it up with some olive oil and lemon juice and lemon zest and a few peanuts (not the purist touch, but what was in the cupboard) and pasta.  And I took my bowl and glass to my backyard chair with my latest obsession, which I’m far from alone in sharing: a book about Italy.

Yes, I am on the Frances Mayes bandwagon, only about ten years behind.  But seriously, is there any better summertime reading? Hard to tell what I like more, the accounts of house and garden restoration (which is catnip to someone like me) or the recipes in the book (many ingredients for which I am growing — eggplants, peppers, and even, unwillingly, rabbits) or the lyrical reflections on place, mingling her memories of her native South with Tuscany.  I sipped my wine, ate my own fresh pesto from my own basil, and drifted into a sort of dream.  The air was hot but soft, with no bugs.  My garden, brought to order under my own hand, hummed with quiet satisfied life around me.  And it seemed to be in a kind of kinship of latitude, or attitude, with rural Italy – farms, country towns, people working with their hands, raising from the ground what they want to eat.  We do that here in our corner of Iowa.  I do it in my own backyard.  Immersed in the book, sitting in my own yard, I wondered for a second whether I was here or there.  I felt part of the larger, serene unity of places where people grow things by hand: it is a country of its own, all over the world. And I’m a citizen.

I thought: It has always been my dream to go to Italy.  And getting out of debt is the first step to getting there.  I have begun to secure my life here.  And that means, in the words of Thoreau, putting foundations under some of my lifelong dreams as well.  I remember reading a story in a financial planning book years ago in which the author and a friend went to Italy.  The friend admired a statue and bought it on the spot – for several thousand dollars.  When asked about it, she said, simply, “I don’t waste my money on stupid things.  So when I see something I really love, I can have it.”

This fall, the savings begin.  And I get one step closer to a lot of other dreams.

16 thoughts on “La bella Iowa?

  1. A lovely piece, Amy (as usual). I share your belief that one part of the solution to the misery we’re all enduring in this economy is getting our own financial houses in order. What we learned, in the last 40 decades, is how to live within our means, how to save, and how to distinguish between a want and a need. I a bed, food, water and some kind of transportation to get me to the work I love; almost everything else is a . Learning to save for the wants has been a revelation for me.

    1. and (gah!) … I *need* a bed, food, water and some kind of transportation to get me to the work I love; almost everything else is a *want*.

  2. Your yard looks wonderful, Amy! Has it been raining a lot in Iowa? We haven’t had rain in middle Illinois for at least three weeks now, and my poor lawn is losing its green vibrancy. The grass was great throughout May into June, but the heat and dryness has kicked in to my chagrin since. Now, I feel depressed as I tend to my yard–and watering heavily is expensive and therefore not an easy solution.

  3. Loved this and especially this line that speaks to this fullness and joy we feel when we create something, whether it’s a basil plant or a great paragraph — “I felt part of the larger, serene unity of places where people grow things by hand: it is a country of its own, all over the world. And I’m a citizen.” I also adore Frances Mayes–I have reread “Under the Tuscan Sun” so many times and find something new I like about it every time.

  4. I feel those of us who admire Italy, long for that sense of place that includes land, food, labor and love. This post put it beautifully! You are a citizen of the heart. I have enjoyed Frances Mayes and Ferenc Mate for their incites of Italy, and you have certainly connected in spirit.

  5. I loved this one, Amy, and I’ve relished Frances Mayes’ books as well and several others in the genre (A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle; various others about expats buying little pieces of property in Mexico, France, Italy and elsewhere and making a go of it.) I love how a book like that can transport you in your mind — especially when vacations can be so few and far between. Saving for Italy is a worthy goal. We went last fall and I’d go back in a heartbeat. I thought about the Frances Mayes books a lot when I was there and decided to try wild boar sauce because she had waxed on about it in her books. It did not disappoint! I also found that my most memorable experiences there were free or cheap. (Rick Steves highlights such things in his books.)


  6. Don’t mean to be a “blog hog” but I just thought of something else I admired about Italy and Italians — they are very committed to doing small things well, with a sense of craft. I noticed it in their food, their art, and even the way they cared for their cemeteries. Perhaps we’d think such things waste time, or aren’t cost-effective, but they really know how to take pleasure and pride in the small things. (Of course, a lot of them still nap in the afternoons too.) Life is meant to be savored. They may keep a more leisurely schedule, but they make full use of the day. It’s not wasted in front of the TV. Dinner is not rushed. Kids are spoiled with love and attention. It’s pretty sweet to observe. I highly recommend this book, which reveals many truths about Italian culture, but will also make you laugh out loud:

  7. I first discovered Frances Mayes and her Italian world at the American Pharmacy in the Yurakucho area of Tokyo. While eating my lunch of ramen, I would escape from my position as a foreign legal associate at Japan’s oldest law firm and venture into her world of restoration and olive presses. There was nothing to die the two worlds together other than my desire and hope to understand and explore both of them. Enjoy, Cheapskate Intellectual!

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