Archive for the 'Stories' Category

The Plains

March 12th, 2010

The dew was still wet on the tall grass even as the late summer winds slowly gathered speed from the west.

There was movement in the grass that the wind did not account for, but it moved too slowly and intermittently to be dangerous and the hunter just stayed still, with soft, shallow breathing, lowered eyelids, and the patience of long practice.

For some time there had been no movement, but still he waited, curiosity piqued more than need or hunger. Finally she stood up… not much taller than the grass, young, thin with black hair shaved back almost to the scalp and a wary look of fear, curiosity, apprehension and readiness for flight.

Still he did not move. His head had tilted up when she first appeared, and now he lowered it down, looking almost asleep, or at most uninterested. Each sense however was alert and awake. If there was one, the rest of the group, family, clan or tribe would be close by, or at least looking. There was no danger from her, but the possibility of danger filled the air.

Neither moved for minutes. She turned and ran to his left. He tilted his head up, looked to the left for anything that was not prairie, and then, when he was satisfied, let his head rest down again. No movement, no interest. The girl continued running, looking behind in fear to see how close the pursuit is. The only thing more fearful than being pursued sometimes is not being pursued, and this causes a slowdown in the flight, then a stop to consider what is wrong with this picture.

The plainsman is not moving. He is leaning against a rock pile and almost looks asleep, but years of watching the wolves hunt has taught the girl the art of seeing through inaction.

She walks closer, first two steps, then three, followed by one, then a moment of stillness. The plainsman glanced over slowly and smiled. Looks like the dancing back in St Louis. He had seen the merchants and their wives in the town square, moving together to the music, and darned if it didn’t look something like this.

When he looked over she froze and tried to make herself invisible. The ancient mantras handed down from mother to daughter washed out of her mouth with ease of practice as she willed herself to be the wind, or a bush…. But there were no bushes in these open fields, and the wind was so easy to see as it rolled around her shoulders.

After a while, she stopped the words, and just looked.

“Where are your people?” he signed in the manner of the plains trading peoples.

“Following the buffalo… they went too fast” she replied in the hand language and pointed to the east.

He looked over his shoulder, but could not even see the dust of the great herd. “How many suns?”…


He reached into his bag and pulled out two strips of cured buffalo, dry and smoky. She came the rest of the way and took them from his hand to her mouth in a clean quick motion that showed that as a forager of food on the plains she had not been lucky. He poured a cup of water, warm and tasting of iron, from one of the several canteens and she swallowed this in one gulp.

“Guess I gotta do somethin’” he muttered to himself, and turned to the east back towards the trail he had crossed this morning made by the buffalo as they flattened all the grass in their path. Surveying the tracks he noted that they were headed east, and figured the girl did know something at least.

“You can follow if you wish” he signed and turned to follow the tracks breaking into a slow leisurely trot. He did not look behind, did not have to, for the ears trained by the years could hear the sound of bare feet trotting behind.

The sun would be going down soon, and he wanted to get to the round lake before it set…

This story nags at me for completion and I will probably do something with this pair that will have nothing to do with romance, although that would be the easy road for me to take

Cote D’Azur Redux

March 12th, 2010

And the sun came up, shy and virginal, greeting the lovers
still sitting against a tree; a purifying light allowing the
soul to breath and the heart to soar.

The two had been on the beach for at least an hour, leaving
love soaked sheets for the cleansing of the cool night air.
She lifted her head and opened sleepy eyes, acknowledging
the morning and the new day. He kept his eyes closed and
his arms loosely around her, providing warmth, although whether
to himself or her he was not really sure. He did, however, move
his head slightly and smile, a gesture more to make sure he was
awake than to preface any action. Leaning down, he softly kissed
her forehead, and she, eyes smiling, snuggled back against
him and adjusted herself for closeness and comfort.

There might have been words that passed between them, drowned out
by the soft purr of the ocean waves, there might have only been
gestures and touches, but they communicated, and radiated, and
bathed themselves in a soft and gentle love that was theirs alone,
a gift not to be shared, but only noticed and smiled at. This moment
was time stopped in its’ tracks, the world far away and forgotten, a
sea of solitude surrounding an island of caring.

And the sun continued to rise, the only timely motion in a timeless
universe. The warmth finally caused him to open one eye and stare
around as if surprised that they were actually in a tangible setting.
She had gone back to sleep on his chest, a rhythmic trust and
silent confidence in him, in them. Another soft smile appeared on his
face, and he once again shut his eyes, stopping time and reveling
in the moment and the sharing.

There was movement on the beach now, tenuous feelers of life returning,
early morning seekers scouring the sand and sea for knowledge,
enlightenment, wisdom, or just the pure enjoyment. Some glanced over
at them, and recognizing the dream, kept on walking. Most completely
missed them and carried their own world around their shoulders and
off into the distances.

Moonlight Road

March 12th, 2010

The sky was clear from here to the horizon, the broad water in the distance seemed to fall off the edge of the earth, and the sun was being swallowed by the lake slowly but surely. The soft rush of the waterfall behind us just added to the quiet of the setting. I felt the gentle touch of your hand on my shoulders, as you slid around the edge of the garden bench and gracefully sat down beside me.

The hand slipped down into mine, and not a word was exchanged, although in my heart I had never heard as eloquent a poem as the caring that was written there at that moment. You leaned up for just a second and laid a soft kiss on my cheek, All I could do was smile, as the situation called for no words, and indeed, none would have been adequate to the moment.

We had poured more love, sweat, thought and energy into this place than should have been possible. And in the end, it was all forgotten, or more than worth it, when, on an evening where the wind was a symphony of peace, we could sit as the sole audience to this concert and enjoy the satisfaction that only perfection truly brings.

Not everything was in place yet, and I knew that even those things I looked upon as perfect would be changed, or re-arranged, or replaced, and always the changes would be even more perfect if such a thing were truly possible.

The sun was just a sliver now, and the sudden chill of the evening brought you closer to me. Still no sound had been made to break the silence.

A quick flash of a fish surfacing to feed in the pond attracted both our attentions, and you got up and went to the edge. I watched you sit there admiring the beauty that we had created, the true child of both our minds and souls, and felt so much contentment at that moment that I felt that the world could not contain that much feeling.

You turned, said one word, “Heaven”, stretched out your hand, took mine, and headed back for the house.

Each of the rocks in the path were familiar to us, even in the gathering darkness, for each had been put in place carefully, lovingly, sometimes painfully by us, and each was where it was supposed to be. The stream still danced downhill off to our left, singing us a constant song of life and joy.

The house welcomes us, first with the lights from the patio in back, then the small accent lighting to welcome us to our place, a home not just a house, a haven from the world’s noise. We enter through the patio door, and as I go in to brew up a small herbal tea for us, you stay in the greenhouse, just taking care of (or maybe just talking to) one or another of your plants. I always love this about you, the gentle habits, the constant quest for perfection with the full knowledge that it is the quest that is important.

I wander out onto the front porch as the kettle is warming up and listen to the soft wind rolling by. On a night like this there are few sounds and those that do come are lullabies sung to put us at rest. The moon hangs in the sky and traces a road across the lake that leads right to our home, and I think back on the path that has brought us to this place, this time, this night.

The soft whistle of steam, and the sound of the greenhouse door being closed brings me back into the house. I collect a small kiss (actually a few small kisses, I am by nature greedy) from you as I enter the kitchen and pour out our cups. You go out to the porch after turning on gentle music, now the sound track of our life, and I follow a minute later with both cups. Your cup is on the right as usual, and we snuggle into the porch swing, and relax, and taste our tea, and talk.

We discuss thoughts and happenings of the day. We talk of dreams and wishes. We mention plans and hopes. We open up our souls and use this time to sort them out with each other’s help. This communication and openness has always been at the core of our caring and it the one thing that I never wish to do without. Every once in a while, your hand will reach out to touch my arm just to emphasize a small point. Each time it still thrills me to feel the gentle touch, the soft caring, the desire to be near that is in that simple gesture.

You point out the moonlight road. I smile an acknowledgement that I had seen it, and that brings on a small silence as we look around at our surroundings. I look over at her, and say “You were right up there when you suggested that this is heaven, maybe it is, and we just had to work a bit to get here.”

You love the idea and turn around to snuggle up in my arms. I don’t know if it is the cool of the evening or the warmth of your caring that drove you there, and at times like these, I really don’t care. I just accept the situation, appreciate the feelings, and thank whomever should be thanked for the moment.

I look down the moonlight road across the lake, and enjoy the voyage….

Spaghetti on a Friday Night

March 12th, 2010

The smell of the sauce on the stove was worth just standing and breathing in, a drug, a road sign on the path to creation, a promise of sensation to come, a warm reminder that this was home.

I felt your arm snake around my waist, and your cheek against my back. If there was anything that would distract me from the creation, it had always been you, even before I knew that you existed. There had always been that arm, I just never knew what name was attached to it, I always looked, always expected, always hoped for, but never found, until this moment, when the arm was there. I knew that feeling, I knew that cheek.

It fit.

A simple statement to a very complex emotion. I closed my eyes. I was trying to stop time. I was trying to hold on to the feeling of that arm around me, that cheek against me, that time of perfection.

The fragrance of the spaghetti sauce filled the air, and my mind came alive, storing memories, sensations, happiness, glory…. More emotions than a man should have at one time.

To this day, I do not know if the arm was just for a second, or for eternity. I did stop time and reveled in the feelings.

I reached behind and pulled your back in towards me. It made you no tighter against me, but made me feel as if I were adding to the moment, letting you know how important this was to me, how it filled my soul.

There are other sensations that, I believe, you think are more important to me, but it is the dancing to the music, the arm by the stove, the kiss in the dining room, the warm body under the fur throw that are important, fulfilling, manufacturers of smiles and contentment. You have probably felt that contentment in your life… watching a son grow up, hearing a grandson was born, feeling that son in your arms for the first time, making up with a daughter for the thousandth. These feelings exist in me as well. They are a moment of perfection, a moment when time stands still, a moment when you press the pause button on life and let the feeling pour in like a flood in spring. I do not know how else to explain it, but it was all here in a pot of sauce and a loving arm.

There are moments when life is crystal clear, when the meaning becomes apparent, the philosophers bow in awe at the perception, the tides of the economy, and war, patriotism and hatred are pushed aside and told to wait. These moments are sometimes passed without recognition, and that is a pity, for these are the moments that life is meant for. This is why we are given the gift, this is why we are born. I think that, if an afterlife is a fact, that these are the moments that we will be judged on. The universe will ask if we appreciated the present, if we knew the gift, if we saw eternity in a second.

I made a stirring motion in the pot, but it was my heart that was stirring. I turned for a kiss, but you moved to the left and came around front. No half kiss for you….. for you had realized the moment.

By the time the pots came out of the lower cupboard to be filled, one by one, the sauce was a collection of memories that could be taken out and tasted. You are the spices that fill the senses and enhance the taste of a memory.

You are here, the arm around my waist, the thought in my head for the millionth time in the last minute, the feeling that will give the sauce an appetite.

Thank you… on a Friday night… With your arm around me, even though you are miles away.

After reading this idyll I could see the possiblity of leading out couple into adventure, so I will slowly extend this story on line and see where it leads, or if the adventure is any good

The beautiful thing, other than you lying on my lap pretending to sleep, was that there was almost no noise. The Atlantic waters lapped gently at the sides of the boat, and the sails flouffed from time to time, but for us, even the wind held its’ breath.

The air was warm, and the sun positively hot, but the shade of the sail protected us, and, as a current or a shift of air moved the boat around, a touch on the rudder would bring the sun back under control. Once in a long while I would look around lazily, and call out to the computer in the cabin “Distance to Land”, and the computer with its’ GPS would say “4 miles” or some such figure. Once it had said 6 and I had to turn the boat towards land, for weather can change in a heart beat out here, and when you are touching me, my heart always beats a little faster.

You had just wanted a day of relaxation and rest, a touch of doing nothing in a race to see as many sights and memories as possible, cameras clicking, “I didn’t remember that”’s being recorded, lunches of questionable value being eaten, and yet, in the rush, it was just the fact that you were here with me that really mattered. Some of the sights were breathtaking, but maybe that was just your hand on my arm. Some of the drives long, but we took them as a time for conversation and laughter. Some of the nights were hot, but we answered by making them hotter.

Today was our day away, our nothing day. The phone was back at the dock tucked in the trunk, the internet on the computer turned off so it served only us on this day.

I felt your hand move against my leg, and warned you with a laugh that if it were one inch higher, I could not guarantee your pretend sleep. You smiled and thought of the possibilities. I just ran my fingers, through your blond hair, excited for a second by the thought, satisfied with the situation as it was, happy that it was you under my fingers, happy that it was me that you had chosen.

An island swam over the horizon and the boat seemed drawn to it. I called to the computer to watch depth and warn at 10 feet, and was comforted at the acknowledgement of the order. The island was small and crowded with trees. No houses were to be seen, but then, there is more than one side to an island.

I pulled in the sails a bit, as you sat up and stretched and my thoughts went off down that heartbeat path again. You looked around sleepily and asked if we were going to stop on the island. I went inside and checked our position with the computer. There was an island shown here, and we were only 2 miles from shore. No name or warnings were showing on the map, so it was fairly safe to land if we should want to.

I asked what you wanted to do, and you walked to the front and dropped the anchor… I hustled to bring down sails and slow our speed quickly and looked up to see your eyes smiling with the confidence that I could perform this tiny maneuver, if only to impress you…

“Lunch will be served soon, my turn to cook” you said, disappearing into the boat. A moment later a cold can of Ginger Ale erupted from the galley and was caught, opened, and cleaned of overflow in what looked like a single motion. A few seconds later, I heard “Fore!!!” come out of the dark. Better late than never I thought and could hear the laugh floating on the wind. I felt a slight lurch as the anchor finally caught on something at about 20 feet, and slowly swung the boat around. I went aft and lowered one of the sails completely, unclipping it from the mast and clipping it to the front bow rail to provide shade….

“If you have a chance, you might want to be on deck”

“Why?” from the galley

“About 10 manta rays and a whole school of yellow fish surrounding them”.

I heard the light feet scampering up the stairs, and half a “Where” get out of your mouth before you saw the solemn procession that was emerging from the sunny side of the boat. “Beautiful” you said, and I agreed… except that I was looking at you. I headed down and brought back some pieces of bread which I soaked, then threw into the water. The yellows immediately gathered around it. I wet some in my hand, and without letting it go, put my hand into the water where it was surrounded and tickled by the yellows until the pieces of bread had gone. I put some in your hand, and holding on to your waist, leaned you over the side as you very, very slowly put your hand in the water. I could see the “Are you sure about this” look on your face, until the yellows were tickling your hand too, and you giggled, and looked like a 14 year old girl with your twinkling eyes and a smile bigger than your face…. Slowly you opened your hand and the bread, then the tickles disappeared…

Just then one of the rays glided to the surface. “watch” I said, and put my had under the ray with a bit of bread in it. When the hand came up it was empty… “Try it”

Again we had the “Are you sure look” and asked “Will he bite?”. “Trust me… just try”. The hand went in, and under, and then I heard “the laugh” as you were startled by the suction of the ray. “No teeth” I said “they suck things up life a vacuum”. You were way ahead of me though and had a second handful of bread for the ray before I finished talking. The yellows were swarming under, catching the crumbs that the ray let drop, and the scene was like a wonderful screensaver, or a Disney movie… too perfect to be real.

We heard the boat long before we saw it and the sound of the engine being pushed to its’ limit and sometimes beyond was an intrusion on the interest and potential of the afternoon. The boat came around the far end of the island, skipping over waves and driving through the water with an almost maniacal desperation.

“Look” you said, as a bag, or package was ejected from the boat.

I saw it as you did and watched as the boat skimmed by and headed for land…

“Look” you said again, and I followed you finger to see another boat come around the edge of the island…

“Looks like a race of some sort”. The truth was that I was starting to get a bad feeling as both boats sped out of sight towards land.

The sound faded until there was only the lapping of the Atlantic against the side of the boat.

We lay back again to resume the idyllic moment, and I let your head fall back into my lap.

“I wonder what was in that bag” you said echoing a thought that had been going through my head for the last 5 minutes. “Should we pick it up?? What if it was something important that they did not know that they lost?”

“I think that it was very important, and that we should not touch it with a ten foot pole, or even an eight foot German”. The old joke sounded stale even to me, for I was as curious as you were and the package lay there. Thoughts of lotto wins rolled through my head as did thoughts of drug stashes and a hundred other possibilities none of which were good for us.

“Let’s just look, and if it is none of our business, we can throw it back..”

“No” I said “this seems like one thing we should just let go” and I rested my head against the mast and closed my eyes.

That peace lasted about 30 seconds. Your curiosity was peaked and I knew at that time what was going to happen even though every thought in my head was how to avoid it. Adam must have felt like this when Eve mentioned the apple and I knew that the exit sign from Eden was flashing somewhere above me.

Twenty minutes later I had my flippers on and my mask rescued from our carryon and I was falling backwards into the shallow waters. It was fairly easy to find the satchel on the sandy bottom, especially when we had seen where it entered the water, and I brought it up to the surface and handed it to you.

I knew I was going to regret this, but I confess that my inquisitiveness was as strong as yours and the greed in my soul was looking for the powerball to strike me now.

You pulled up the satchel as I climbed out of the water and I could see the disappointment in your face as you opened it.

“Only a small bag” you said and pulled out a velvet bag that I recognized as a Crown Royal drawstring sack. You pulled at the drawstring to look inside and I saw the expression on your face change immediately. You left the sack open and passed ti to me without a word…. The “without a word” part should have alerted me immediately, and it did in a general way as I felt the contents in my hand for the first time and looked inside.

There were dozens, maybe hundreds of what looked like diamonds and my heart stopped for a second, maybe three, maybe four, and in the days ahead I often wished that it had stopped forever.

“Let’s throw this back” I said, for I knew there was nothing but trouble here. I have to admit that I was hoping that you would say no, for then it would be your fault, or at the very least, not mine, if we went ahead..

“No, let’s head back for harbour and think about this on the way.

Parades in the key of Life

March 16th, 2010

This was one of those wonderful “first meetings” in a coffee shop in downtown Montreal. We had chosen, not on purpose, the morning of the Santa Clause parade and the participants were all around us for the first hour. The lady still remains a good friend and wonderful conversation (and too long, too fast walk) partner, but the setting and the wonder of the meeting were very special, and this was written the day after..
Capricious elves danced in her soft blue eyes, as the waitress brought the coffee, and the gentle stories flowed from a soul that loved lives. The participants of the Santa Clause parade streamed in and out of the building and could be seen in the window behind me, throughout the coffee shop and reflected in anything I was looking at, and right now, it was those eyes.

The smile on my face was a combination of the surprise that some people can be better than your hopes and dreams, the realization that the stories were a painting of the lives and loves that flow around us every day, and the contentment at just sitting back and listening to someone who is truly interesting. I could understand why over a million people would want to participate in her thoughts every week, but now, it was just me, and I was receiving the benefit of that million person energy. Her words tumbled out one after the other, sometimes waiting and waiting as the answer to a question was unfolded, sometimes exposing stories like strings of pearls, each a part of days past, futures hoped for, and today. Each story was a clue to her soul or a reflection of her heart, each gathered carefully and considered, each put in their place for remembrance and reflection.

We had arrived here on the wings of my writings, and the hopes of the incredible, a chance taken with no road in sight, just a starting place, but for today that was sufficient. I must confess to being a man who will go off at full speed in one direction to get to where he wants, and sometimes needs, to go, but today was a day for standing still and admiring the surroundings and the beauty.

We listened to tales of sadness on sadness, history and recollections, redemption and rescue, hope and plans. Dreams were scattered all over attached by a string of determination and energy. Visions were tacked on the walls, each an unformed picture, a vague idea, a realization of destination without the requisite roadmaps. Each of these was, in fact, just a piece of a large and complex puzzle assembling itself before my eyes…. large tracts of the puzzle were missing, but apparent from the joined pieces that surrounded them… small areas were indistinct like a Monet painting, but I knew that some would come into focus as the surrounding pieces were added and others would stay indistinct and wonderfully mysterious, to be wondered at and admired, guessed at but never questioned. Jagged button edges lay just at the edge of vision suggesting that the puzzle, the future, was larger than imagined at this time if only the right pieces could be found.

I listened to the plans and in each were the seeds of action to be taken immediately, and the laughing “Whoa boy!” in the back of my head as each campaign laid itself out in tenths of seconds, and was packed away just as quickly… items in a hope chest, well wrapped, preserved and not to be forgotten. Each dream of hers was accompanied by a corresponding idea of his, like couples pairing up at a cotillion, marching in double file, around a corner and out of site as the next couple were presented and paired.

She was beautiful and timeless but still the minutes and hours flew by way too fast, not matter how much they put off other obligations, and tried to stretch the hours, life caught up to her first. In the street goodbyes turned into conversation extensions, each trying to put the parting further away, then into hugs to hold on to the thought, the memory, the feeling.

The walk away was gentle and dreamlike, happy and sad, regretful and triumphant, the lingering feel of her arms around his neck and the wonderful warmth that brought, a look back and an eye on the future. And the only hope was a single word…… soon.

This was written about a non existant park in Calgary. I just remember walking out to the west end of the city and being blown away by view of the Rockies, majestic and cold in the distance. This was written to a person in Calgary and a literary dream and a wish for one of our walks and talks in an unreal but all too possible setting

I love walking with you in the old park out by the edge of the city. It used to be a part of a small country town, but now, it is indistinguishable from the rest of the urban sprawl which has grown out to enclose it like a flood.

The benches are still there however and the slight lean of the land still exposes the breathtaking view of a vast horizon filled with blue grey mountains seemingly planted to stop the mad rush of the prairies. Someone had planted trees here, apple and pear, maples and poplar, and they have grown over the many years since that time to become a small forest in a land ruled by grass.

You can still see the odd cowboy during the times of the year not given over to the stampede, but he is more likely to have a jeep or pickup than a horse, more likely to be older rather than younger, more likely to be affable than loner. The psyche of the city is still retained, and every bus boy fancies himself a cowboy or an oilman. The feel of the frontier, the gold rush, the gusher just around the corner remains in the peripheral vision of accountant and mechanic alike. “The deal” is somewhere to be had around here if we could just recognize it, and grab it, and, most importantly hang on.

But here, with you, the city cannot seep in. It is time for quiet. It is a place where the world slows to a stop. It is a place to admire the beauty of the Rockies and be astonished by their size, especially when you consider that they are a hundred miles away.

Last night we were 100 miles from the water, tonight it is 100 miles from the heights. Last night we were high up looking down, tonight on the ground looking up.. It all seems to come together here in this park. The forest and the plain, the mountain and the water, the quiet in the middle of noise, the peace in the midst of striving, the stillness in the center of a demand for forward motion.

These are the nights when I love this park the most. I am here with you and the feel of your hand in mine as we walk into the trees takes the day off my back. The calm of the bench and the beauty of the picture painted in front of us is accented by the feel of your head on my chest and my arm around your shoulder. I have time to think, to paint a picture in my imagination and colour it with words, to feel my dreams playing among the apple trees like butterflies in the summer. I can reach out and hold the tranquility, breathe it in like steam from the kettle. I can allow my soul to stop running and start living..

There are other souls in the park here with us, who smile as they walk by, or nod heads as if to apologize for disturbing the peace. They are here for the same reason we are, and they add to the feeling of the park. We are a painting of a feeling done in deep greens and steel greys, shadows and sunlight yellow dappled in the short grass.

I love walking with you in the old park out by the edge of the city.

One Last Waltz

April 29th, 2010

He came up to the assembly plant, with its’ abandoned look, and broken windows.

This had been the scene of so many bad memories, the months on the picket line in the cold and rain and snow, the arguing with plant guards who were just trying to do their job, the tears of hopelessness at night as the world seemed to crumble and a way of life passed them by.

He had broken a few of those windows himself, in anger and desperation, and now could see the construction rigs sitting in the extensive parking lot, waiting for tomorrow morning when this monstrosity would come down, and they would not mourn her one bit, not one second…

He moved to the door, and reaching though a broken pane of glass, opened the lock, held out his hand for her, and entered. She was plainly worried about this, and he came close, held her as he always did, brushed one gentle kiss onto her forehead and told her “One last look around before we condemn this place to hell”.

They walked to the changing area where they had shared a quick embrace before going to their separate stations every morning, past the cafeteria where they would have lunch together very rarely as they worked different stations in the plant, out to the paint shop where she had gone every day.

At times she had hated the repetition that the job demanded, but now she missed the security of the paycheck at the end of the week, the voices of her friends every morning, the bridge games on Saturday night with co-workers who had long since moved away. She would not miss the work, but she would miss them.

Out to the line where he had spend so many years on so many models putting the finishing touches on each car.

There was a light in between the hanging chains, and she pulled at his hand fearing a security guard who would think they came here to damage what was to be destroyed tomorrow morning. He assured her that any guard would be in the same position they were in and would understand completely.

They went towards the light, and coming around the corner she saw an assembly stand with the checkered tablecloth from their kitchen thrown over it.

Two chairs were stationed around the stand, raised on wooden boxes to provide a convenient height. On the table was the storm lantern from the garage, casting a yellow light on the two plates, the good silver from her mother, and the two lunch boxes they had carried every day, two cans of coke beside two wine glasses, and one red rose, her favourite.

He turned to her, and putting one finger under her chin, gently lifted her lips to his.

“This is the spot I was working when I first saw you, the day you did replacement work on this line. I have never forgotten that moment, and I never will. I am not sure whether I fell in love right at that second, or whether it took a minute or two to sink in, but I just knew that somehow we were meant to be together.”

“You have been with me through the thick and the thin, through three wonderful children who will never have to work in this hellhole, and one wonderful life that makes it all seem worthwhile.”

“I just wanted to come here one last time, to celebrate you, and the ceremony of our life that seemed so humdrum at the time, but was just the fabric on which you sewed the pattern of our love.”

“I adore you for each stitch and will continue to for the rest of my days”

As he reached out his hand and led her over to the table, soft music came over the crackly P.A. system, the waltz that they had danced to at their wedding. Now she realized how he knew the security guard would understand. It must be Johnson on duty tonight.

She reached over and held his hand very tightly, the steady support of her life, and looking up realized that he had turned hell into a palace just for her.

From Polyanna

April 29th, 2010

I read this in a letter I had written over a year ago and recognized the precursor to “One hundred miles away from water”. It is obviously the same dream in my head yet expressed differently

There is a hill on the edge of a mountain in a land of enchantment. The perfect place to sit and look into deep valleys and black rivers. The perfect place to reach out a hand and touch the soul of one you love.

Over the hill is an umbrella of animal clouds, elephants and crocodiles and who knows what that one is. They shade the hot sun for minutes at a time, playing hide and seek with the light, cooling the warm afternoon, bringing her closer each time.

If they look closely they can see the rivers leading down to the Mediterranean, although only glimpses of the vast sea can be viewed from this distance and it is only the great height that makes it visible at all.

From out of the backpack comes a small cold canteen with the ice that was inside this morning thawed but still cold. Snuggled up inside the towel, wrapped around the canteen, is a small bottle of champagne, kept cool by the thawing ice, and calm by the large towel. He pops the cap of the champagne as if it were a beer and pours half a glass of cold water and half a glass of champagne into the canteen’s drinking cup. Turning, he offers the mixture to her, while putting the towel around her shoulders, to cool them from the sun, and warm them against the afternoon wind that is beginning to flow down the sides of the mountain.

A smile from her is all it takes to warm him against the winds, and he waits until she has finished drinking before pouring himself some of the mixture.

It is not far back to the mountain retreat that she found on the internet, and charmed him into reserving, so they can afford to just relax and enjoy the view. It is every bit as spectacular as the waiter had promised, and appeared as deserted as he had described… The man deserved a big tip tonight, for while the tourists viewed old villages with tourist shops full of tourist goods, the lovers celebrated the land and the beauty and finding of each other.

They would walk back soon, but not quite yet….

Travels in Springtime

May 22nd, 2010

As “What we did on our winter vacation” seems to get the most attention and comment, and there have been requests for more of the same type of thing, I decided to bring our couple back out on the road… I truly thank those who have written or commented on all the stories on this site… I will try to do one chapter every day or two and add it to this post
Chapter 1 – Everybody’s got to be somewhere

We had decided not to move from our comfy home after the heavy adventure of the winter vacation and more than a year passed before we even thought of expanding our travels again.

Each flower that the early spring presented outside the solarium seemed to echo or at least affirm that decision, but eventually the need to get out of the house, or out of the country, wriggled into the conversations and soon we found ourselves planning to travel again.

I offered that another nature hike would not be the best thing right now, as the last one had been adventure piled on top of adventure. This one would be urban (my choice) , or historic (your idea) and would be meant to teach or entertain rather than relax.

You agreed, and we dove into thoughts and directions, travel websites and recommendations from friends… Each idea came and went, the expectations filled our heads and our dreams, the conversations over morning coffee wrote the possible trips before one foot had been placed out the door and giggles punctuated plans as the ridiculous crept into reality. Your wish for the historic led us through Egypt and over into Iraq to trace the beginnings of civilization, but I reminded you of the drama of last winter and was loathe to tempt fate. I suggested tried and true… the romance of Paris or Rome, the pollution of Milan or Beijing (a trip out to the tomb of the Qin Emperor almost made this one a reality), the castles rising above the Rhine river (and here the taste of the great white wines almost won the day).

We finally decided on the quiet and medieval history of Tuscany with days spend in Sienna and visits to San Gimignano and other places of beauty and especially quiet. No drama here, just simple gawking tourists, with our ooohs and aaahs packed safely for distribution among the sights. We had Firenza for a city and the street bazaars that would satisfy your shopping urge. We had giant hills that are wonderfully unique to Italy. We had great friends and wonderful food and wine to mark jewel points in the travelogue… We had history going back to Romulus and Remus, side voyages to see the Etruscans and the possibilities, relaxation, vista and magnificence seemed to color the imagined trip.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of preparation, as maps were downloaded into my GPS, fares were compared, tickets bought online, bed and breakfasts were matched against hotels, invitations from friends were accepted or rejected, clothes were chosen or bought, packed then unpacked, sometimes repacked, and our families told of where to reach us and how not to try….

By the time we were driven to the airport in the early evening, the trip seemed like a vacation from the planning and the dull two hour wait after passing customs was a relief. You snuggled up against my chest on the airplane and promptly fell asleep. I was encouraged by the trust this implied, and followed your lead, allowing myself to close my eyes and think of anything but the travel.

Hours came and went, marked by mothering cabin crew and standard airline meals, two long movies, thankfully snoozed through, and then the beginnings of light through the one or two open windows announcing morning, and the beginnings of a descent into Aeroporto di Firenza. You uncoiled and gracefully and compactly stretched yourself into wakefulness in a manner which I am sure that cats have long watched and tried to emulate. I always am amazed that you can sleep through the night and wake up looking elegant and classy. I did my internal countdown and watched as you transformed from relaxed to endlessly energetic within seconds. You checked documents and papers, had me fill out entry forms, arranged the breakfast (I offered to skip the breakfast and take you to a restaurant I knew on the outskirts of Florence, but you wanted to do an initial scouting of the city, so accepted the lesser fare as an exchange for time), checked your carry on, went to improve on perfection, and came back to wait the last few minutes to touch down.

Airport, customs, baggage retrieval, and exit were an orderly chaos, performed millions of times each day all over the world, as we decided to pass the taxi stands and take the bus into the center of Florence itself. We were not expected at our first stay, a small vineyard bed and breakfast (highly recommended by friends) until later in the day, and this way we could do some touring and then take a taxi out to the suburbs. As we turned the corner I noticed a large waving sign with our names on it, and saw an old customer (the one who had recommended the b&b) underneath it. A huge smile, tuned into a huge hug and Guillermo and his wife welcomed us to Italy.. “We decided to take a chance” he said. We made introductions all around as he grabbed two of your bags (and just about sunk into the floor as he grabbed the handle of your large one)

“We tried to bring all of Montreal, including the skyscrapers, in that one”… The wheels caught however and the four of us toddled over to a small car in the underground parking and, wedging all the bags somewhere, and ourselves, along with the big bag, in the back seat, headed off for the city.

If you have never been in Florence, you have missed one of the great daredevil acts on our planet. The motorbikes seem to take pride in cutting between cars with millimeters to spare, and there were times when I thought that one or two of them were going to try to cut through the back seat. Our host took all of this in stride, maneuvering through traffic with the same daring and aplomb, all the while twisting around to talk to us and gesturing at sight after sight as it zoomed by. I did not know whether to laugh or be horrified and settled for treating it like a Disney World ride, trusting in the engineering. You smiled and looked so calm, but I know that there were going to be finger shaped bruises on my arm that night. I did not mind at all, just admired your composure while wishing there was something I could hang on to at the same time. I have thought throughout our relationship that that is one of the great marks of class that you carry with you, the ability to seem calm when all is in chaos, and the ability to seem like you are in fast forward when all is calm…

We reached the center of the city after a three lane switch onto a side street, and a full speed entrance into a small garage that opened its’ door to swallow us just seconds before we passed underneath. The squeal of brakes announced our arrival, and we all clambered out into the sunlight, closing the door behind us… “The business garage of a friend… He loaned me the remote as he is never in town on a weekend.” Enough explanation as I resisted the impulse to kneel down and kiss the non speeding pavement…. I did recognize the park at the end of the street however and knew just where we were and how close we were to some of the things you just “had” to see. Four of five twists (there are no turns in Florence) in the streets brought us to the center. I explained the numbering system in the city as you noticed that you had just passed the same number three times on the same street and all were on different blocks and only two were on the same side… You asked how they could live like that, and I just replied that they were used to it, and ignored the numbers that were not of the type of address that they were looking for. I also explained why the hidden garage was so precious, as you could spend your whole vacation allowance on just one night’s parking in the center of the city. “They are trying to discourage, or at least manage, the cars in the city… streets never made for cars and lungs never designed for pollution.”

I head a gasp from you and saw your eyes go up, and then up again, constantly widening as if your brain was trying to open your eyes wide enough to take in the whole thing. I knew you had just seen the basilica, or should I say THE BASILICA di Santa Maria del Fiore. We have all seen the pictures of Florence with the orange dome, but they never prepare you for the immense size of the basilica itself. It is a monster and inspires awe. The first time I saw it, I understood the quandary of putting a dome over that thing, sort of like contemplating putting a dome on lake Erie… I pointed out the statue of Brunelleschi sitting with his eyes looking up at the dome, almost as if he still did not believe that he had actually done it. I told you the story of how he had won the commission and pointed to the ball and cross at the top of the dome and told you that Leonardo da Vinci was just an apprentice in the shop of the sculptor who had fabricated the original ball and cross. All the while our hosts were interjecting additional facts and pointing out details that I had never seen before. It is a city of wonder…. to be able to walk down streets and see a Donatello statue just outside a house, or in a square and marvel that they have been here for centuries and that the works of one of the greats is accessible to anyone in the street.

We enter the Basilica and I can imagine the awe and the pride that it was suppose to instill in the faithful, and probably visiting dignitaries. The awe is still there, with our skyscrapers and monumental structures, it is still good that something not new can bring us a sense that we belong to a wonderful species.

Guillermo’s wife ushers us out a side door and after a very short walk we are in the midst of streets of outdoor bazaars, each selling beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) leather goods and clothing, the inescapable jewelry hawked as handmade with small made in China, or made in India stamps in unobtrusive places. We are approached every block by vendors walking around carrying armfuls of purses or watches, each obviously fake, and only mistaken for the originals from far… But each is fun to bargain with, even though Guillermo dismisses them as junk merchants. I buy nothing, but delight in the game of the negotiation, at least for the first time or two, then I wave them off… You do see a few wonderful bargains and we dig into the Euros that we have set aside for each day’s purchases… This is an area where we have become very good with our discipline, although there have been times when discipline has been overruled by beauty or quality. Rules were made so that you could use your judgment as to when to break them, but could be used as a wall against fatigue or wavering desire…. We knew when to break a rule and when to obey one.

We came upon a small square with a restaurant (the Academie if I remember correctly) just make to escape the mid day sun. Our hosts suggested (now there is a euphemism) a tasters plate with a bit of everything and a tiny glass of different regional wines to accompany and we followed the recommendation which turned out to be excellent. Each plate was small but exquisite, and each plate was better than the last. The lunch was adorned by wonderful conversation, interrupted at times when Guillermo and his wife conversed in Italian that made me feel like those cartoon fireman hanging off the fire truck as I tried to catch a word here or there. At this point it was in vain, although I knew that within a few days this would make much more sense to me, for now I just listened to the beauty or the rhythm of the linguistic music and smiled over at you… The rest was good for it was still early morning in “our” time and we were just getting started… At times other people or couples would walk over to the table and introductions would be made all around. Some were friends, some friends of friends, some just friendly but each was open and enthusiastic, full of suggestions for sights or shopping, tours or warnings… All were listened to and all comments were filed away in memory or in handset to be considered for later.

A short walk after lunch took us to the Ponte Vecchio with its’ jewelers and art galleries, but they got a cursory glance as you headed straight for the Uffizi, and I knew that the afternoon was gone. We walked through the gallery with our hosts marveling over and pointing out each of the wonderful works of art as if they, or one of their children (had to remember to ask about them), had made them. You recognized some, glanced at others, stared unabashedly at a few, and lingered with one or two as if it tore you heart to leave them and move on. I pointed at my watch once or twice, and you pretended not to notice, but you were in one of your heavens and I was not going to be the one who pulled you away from it. Finally, with a promise to return on the last day, we left and took a taxi back to the car.

I had thought that Guillermo was a world class daredevil driver until I watched the taxi careen down streets and alleys, dance with motorbikes, and seemingly brake and accelerate at the same time. It seems that Hollywood chase scenes would be well advised to hire a taxi driver from Firenza to do their stunts… the only problem is that no one (in America at least) would believe that the driving was real. When we were back in our car and headed out of the city, I wondered if Guillermo felt challenged by the skills of the taxi driver and was in a mood to be competitive, but we got out of the city safely and went from madness to serenity in one bridge.

Looking out the back window, I could see the city, but, on this side of the bridge, on the other side of the main Highway through the center of Italy, we were in country, with gentle curves and soft roads that led off into shadows. One of these side roads was apparently ours and we were brought to a large and beautiful house completely surrounded by forest. Guillermo announced that we were “here” and started wrangling the suitcases out of back seats and trunks. I am still not sure how they fit in, but will accept magic when it presents itself.

A long thin man came out of the back door and hugs and kisses, greetings and introductions were made all around. Guillermo left us with our host and drove away telling us that we needed to be just the two of us to enjoy Italy. We dragged our suitcases up a narrow stairway, as I tried not to swear under my breath, and were led to a set of double doors, which, when flung open, revealed an amazing view on the other side of a charming room that was totally ignored for minutes as our eyes were captured by the rolling hills and the beginnings of a sunset. We were still gawking when our Host left quietly and unobtrusively. The charm of the room started to sink in very, very slowly. Each piece was wonderfully chosen, each knick knack evocative. Decorating ideas filled our heads, and then the realization hit that we were in another country, and that our friend’s recommendation had been dead on the money. This was beauty and I was a bit afraid that we would not want to leave this room. Even the bedroom off to the side had the full wall of windows showing the beauty of this country flowing off into the distance.

A gentle knock at the door turned into our host with a bottle of wine and two glasses. The “Grazie Mille” that I gave him did not begin to express the pleasure that this suite was just beginning to bring to me. I told him how beautiful his place was and how wonderfully decorated in my best broken Italian, as a woman appeared behind him, arms full of towels as she came over to you and welcomed you in Italian. She pressed way too many towels into your arms, and you, with your wonderful knack of communication told her of your admiration for her place and her taste. It was so delightful to hear the half English, bit of French, half Italian flow of words on both sides of that conversation, and we two men just stood quietly and admired our women. I offered the host a glass of wine, which he accepted and we just stood and looked outside.

“Salute e grazie” trying to get across to him how pleased we were.. He smiled, understanding, knowing how special his place was, and, as we stood with our wine glasses, he would point out small areas of interest that I had not noticed. He showed me how to exit to a walking path just for a nice moment of peace and relaxation….

“You have to come in here and see this!!” I heard from the bedroom area…

“After…. in a minute…” and then with a wave of my hosts hands “… right away….” As he followed me into the room.

“Look at this”

And I followed you into an art piece of a bathroom, done in marbles and glass, floor art (for to simply call it a beautiful tile floor would be to denigrate the artist who had created it), and many small paintings meant to keep your eyes wandering from one to the other. It was truly a work of art, more so because it also served a daily need with an elegance that we were sure to try to emulate when we got back home….

With a great fondness our hosts left us, a pat to your hand and the wishes for a great evening.

The sun had started to turn a bit darker as it neared the mountains in the distance and the shadows filled the forest with charm. Even though it was only early afternoon by our time at home, the fatigue of the day was beginning to tell.

I poured you a glass of wine and pulled two chairs up to the window as if we were in a very exclusive movie theatre.

“Dinner?” I asked.

“I am still full from lunch, let’s just relax”

And, as the sun touched the mountains, I felt a warm gentle had reach out to hold mine.

After a while I noticed that you were asleep in your chair, and I just carried you into bed and tucked you under the covers. Travel days are tiring, but it is always for the best as we would be up early.

Chapter 2 – Road Signs vs. the GPS

The light grew softly in the room and I was actually up early with one eye sleepily out of the covers watching the hills illuminate themselves. It was like watching art that constantly reinvents itself. You started to stir and I checked my watch. It was still early, but I figured that as long as our bodies were ready to get up, we might as well be on our way. I slid out of bed and shaved and shone first…. Then came out to find you up and packing the day bag. A quick shower and you were ready, something that always pleases and amazes me in our travels. While you were getting ready I glanced over at the door and saw a small packet that had been left on the floor. It was the keys to the rental car, probably delivered last night, along with the rental agreement and a few maps. As I looked up you were ready and wonderfully beautiful, and I contemplated taking the day off and just staying here. You however were in high energy mode and we snuck out the front doorway and walked around the outside of the house. It was a lot bigger than it looked from the driveway. I checked the tags on the keychain and found our car. I noticed that there were a few more cars parked and surmised these were from the other guests, but for now, my only concern was to get to the Firenza-Siena highway and head south. I had already keyed in Sienna (as well as few other trip highlights) as a destination while on the plane, and the voice informed me to turn around and get out of the driveway….

I remembered, before leaving to mark this as home, for, although it had been easy for Guillermo to find the place, I wanted to make sure that we could as well. It was a very straightforward drive to the Highway 127, although I was surprised to find out how far we were, and assumed that Guillermo had been playing Italian Race Driver and was going a lot faster that I was willing to go. Or maybe the conversation and company had just been that good that the time seemed to melt away.

The 127 is a beautiful driving road, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. We avoided the roadside gas/food/tourist traps and pulled off somewhere in the Val di Pesa for a breakfast. The coffee was Italian, thick and small, the food at the small, obviously family owned, trattoria generous and filling, and the wonderful sound of Italian all around was already beginning to sink in. The waitress tried to start in English, but we asked her to stay in Italian and pointed and stumbled our way to our order. One of the points of being on an educational trip was to learn something, and the language is always the best place to start learning, for it is the window into the country’s soul. She corrected some of our words, accepted most, and served us with a huge smile. We allowed ourselves the luxury of a slow breakfast then back out on the road…. The drive was not long, and 40 minutes after breakfast we could see the huge walls of Sienna in front of us. The roads were prepared for tourists and the signs very clear. We parked our car in one of the may paid parking areas outside the perimeter and went in through a gate in the lower wall.

The thing that astounded me was the height we had to ascend using the many banks of escalators. I remarked that having to walk this by foot would have killed the day before it started. We were finally disgorged into a schoolyard and found ourselves on a small street inside the walls, still ascending. There were many clothing, shoe and jewelry shops lining the walls like fishing nets to trap the tourists before they got into the center of the city. One of the jewelry shops featured minerals and raw stones that captured your attention as we passed, and swept you in as you stopped to admire some of the pieces. The owner was very knowledgeable on the local geology and the two of you had a long conversation in Italian on the merits or this stone or that arrangement. We bought a beautiful pendant for you and two stones, just “because they were pretty”. It was actually more because the shop owner had been charming and the experience inside had been enjoyable, but that is what travelling is all about. We continued walking and soon found ourselves in the forum… a huge sloping semicircle that faced a large multistoried building, and the scope was magnificent. You wandered over to the vendors all along the back wall and picked up one of the tourist books.

“This was the forum in Roman times, where all the population could come to hear speakers, or vote on public items”

In front of the vendors on the back wall, all aong the back edge of the semicircle, were tables and chairs served by a multitude of restaurants as tourists and tour groups came and went to the call of tour guides, and the waving of hopefully distinctive coloured flags to rally the herded tour group on to the next destination. We sat down and studied the book planning our viewing of Sienna so that we could get the most out of every footstep. Each of the stops we made and each of the sights were marvelous in their own way, and, having picked up something early in the morning, we were able to bypass all of the shops… We laughed at the Gate of the “regetti” where the people who wanted to leave the city were ejected, admired views within the city, were astounded by the scale of some of the buildings, and tired but the constant walking. By 3PM we were tired but happy and decided to return to the car and wend our way back home.

I decided to try going back by the A1 highway as it was just a touch longer, but would take us through different country. I set the GPS and listened as it guided us surely out of the city and onto the correct highway.

About 10 minutes outside of town, it directed us to turn onto a dirt road…. I had seen no signs that this led anywhere, and was wary about taking this jog in the road. I figured that it might be a short country road that took us across a bed in the highway and shared the opinion that it might be better for us to stay on the paved road…

“Where is your sense of adventure?” you asked..

“Actually, I believe that it is sitting in the seat beside me…”

“Let’s take a chance” you said “ what is the worst that could happen?”

Calling a tow truck to pull us out of a ditch came to mind, but, there was time, and even though this might only save us a few seconds, we were here to explore.

The dirt road showed signs of construction further in, and I figured that we were on a road that was yet to be build, but drove on for fear of appearing unadventurous in your eyes.

The road started to go uphill, but did turn into pavement, with small houses every few hundred yards. The GPS stayed mute during the whole drive, and there were one or two times I stopped just to make sure that it was still working. I had to admit that the view was spectacular as, from time to time, we would turn a corner and to quote the Who “See for miles and miles” over forests and huge hills. We wound up and down hills for half an hour, and at one point the road just came to a stop and became a mud path… that turned out of sight 15 feet ahead.

We got out of the car and the GPS still happily said that we were on path, but I could see on the map that we were nowhere near the highway. On closer inspection I noticed the name of the “town” that we were close to was exactly the same as the district in which we were staying, and a switch in the software had taken us to a place of the same name…

While I was trying to figure out how to unravel this, you had started down the path and disappeared out of sight.

“Come here…” I heard from the forest… and looked up to find you gone. “Quickly” and I surmised that you had followed the path and set off myself.

“Look” as I came around the corner and saw you ahead looking past bushes.

The path continued past the bush and into a beautiful and obviously well tended little valley. At the far side, the path led to a cave that had columns and steps build on its’ outside and resembled a Roman temple build into the side of the mountain. We looked around, but there were no signs that we could see, so we ventured into the valley and toward the cave. The grass was cut short, but we could now see a small group of goats happily munching on the grass, and that explained the shortness and manicured appearance. As we came to the opening behind the pillars, we could see that the cave was deeper than we first thought and was lined along the side by burnt out and half burnt candles, one of which was still lit, showing us that there was at least someone who had been here recently.

We followed the cave back and saw not the altar that we expected, but two or three statues along the sides and one large one in the back of Roman or Greek influence or design.

“What do you think this is?”

“Possible a tomb or burial plot. The burning candle might be a memorial to one of the people resting here. I don’t see any coffins or burial areas though. Were we in Roman times, I would say this was a temple to certain gods, for the candles are gathered around blank areas.. Roman Gods had no form and this looks like a Roman prayer station, where you would light candles as a prayer. Other than that, I do not know”

The sun was low enough that it was streaming in through the mouth of the cave and illuminated the statues at the back. The workmanship was exquisite and now that we were used to the light, we could see that there were many more than just the three or four that we had seen. There were smaller statues piled up against the wall and larger statues extended behind the one we had thought was the back of the cave… “It looks like we have stumbled onto the cave of the statue packrat or a great statue theif”

“Protezione…. Protector” came from behind us.

We turned to see a young man in the mouth of the cave.

“These statues have been here for so long that even my grandfather’s grandfather could not remember the last one being put in. It is our family’s job to keep them safe, but by now, we just do it because it is there.”

“I have often thought that these were statues that were saved from the church or from the armies of the north as they came down, but today they are just here. There are thousands of them, and most are pre renaissance”

“You speak English very well” I noted.

“University in America… I thought that if I could identify what these are and where they came from I could figure out what to do with them. The columns are Imperial Roman although carved from stone, not marble. The roof at the front is renaissance and the statuary goes from pre-imperial Rome to late renaissance. There in the corner are 30 woodpeckers that are so beautiful and delicate that I do not dare to touch them even to find out where they came from. There are Greek and Roman statuary and copies of Greek and Roman.”

I walked over and looked at the woodpecker carving and was entranced by the details that were evident and the delicate look of the metal structure. “And you and your family take care of these?”

“There are protectors all over Italy. Not many any more, but they are there. Twice families have come to us with their collections to store here because they had no one, or no place to store them. This is why the road was extended. My father was mayor of the village and oversaw the construction… But no one comes here…. “

“Why are you here?”

“Because this area has the same name as the area of our penzzione and the GPS wanted adventure”

I showed him the map and where we had started the morning from, and where we were now. He laughed… “I did not know that anyone knew the name of the top of this hill. We do, for we have been here forever, but even the people in the village do not know the name up here.”

“Could I ask you a favour? I have something that has to be brought down to Firenza and I was going to take the bus from the village in the morning. Could you give me a ride to the edge of the city”

I looked over at you with a question in my eyes, as this is how most adventure movies start…. Just one little favour and soon you are up against some secret society that no one has ever heard of, or an international conspiracy, or statues come to life to chase us around a cave (depending on what format the late night movie is) … but you smiled and nodded your head with an earnest yes.

“Momento..” and he disappeared behind the major statue. He was gone for at least 10 minutes, which led me to believe that there was more to the cave than met the eye, and returned with a package wrapped in linen.

We walked back to the car and he invited us to dinner in the village in return for the ride. I had not even seen the village on our way up here, and, as the sun was starting to getting lower in the sky and this cast large shadows as we drove behind hills I relied on our guide and not the GPS.

Dinner was of a style out of another era… Deer meat done in fresh herbs, some sort of root vegetable sliced and roasted, and a dolce or desert that was not sweet at all, but absolutely desert and absolutely delicious. You went out to see if you could find out what it was we had just eaten and if you could get the recipe. I stayed and talked with Aldo (as we finally made introductions) and his father. The father was hoping that his son’s education would shed some light on the mystery of the statues, and there were theories tossed around for a while. I turned down an offer of home made beer, because I had to drive in unfamiliar terrain and would need every wit I could put together.

After dinner we all got in the car with Aldo cradling the package (which I had to assume was a small statue) in his arms. His directions got us to the A1, and within an hour we were in Florence. He told us that his friend would pick him up and that he would take the bus back in the morning and thanked us profusely for our help.

“We are going to see friends at Montepulciano tomorrow morning and could give you a ride back if you want” you said.

I looked over at you, and realized that I should have seen this coming as you always will reach out to help people and this is just your giving nature rearing its’ gorgeous head.

Aldo thought for a minute and accepted…. Telling us that he would meet us on this spot tomorrow morning at 9AM

We drove back to our place (now the GPS worked!) and were greeted by our hosts who asked about the day and offered us dinner. We passed on that, but did accept some cheese and bread which we brought up to the room and watched the last of the sunset…

“What have we gotten ourselves into?”

“Only tomorrow will tell” you answered “Only tomorrow will tell”

Chapter 3 – Friends of Friends

We got up and out the next morning very early. I suggested that we get there at 8 and have breakfast in the small shopping area across the road before Aldo arrived at 9. You thought this was a good idea and we set the travel alarm to get us up and out before 7:30. I suggested that when this day was through we try to spend one morning just sleeping in and watching the beautiful surroundings.

“Right now, that seems like a wonderful idea, but we did promise….. o.k. I promised, and we will just drop him off then go to see your clients and that will be the end of it”

As we arrived at the pickup spot we noticed Aldo, sitting on a barrier patiently waiting. His face lit up when he saw our car, and he reached behind to pick up a wrapped package. It seemed the same size as the one from last night, but he carried it with more difficulty. I got out to help him put it in the back seat and it was quite a bit heavier than the night before.

“I hope that you do not mind that I was here early” he asked.

“No, it is a good idea. We will get on the road early”

And off we went, up the A1 this time, and, as we climbed the hills, Aldo was backseat driving, showing us sights and points of interest. Some were historic, some just beautiful, one, he had us turn down a dirt road which ended overlooking one of the most beautiful panoramas I had ever seen. You got out and took many pictures, but nothing could capture the beauty of the lighting as it started painting the mountains between here and Florence. I clicked the location into the GPS so we could find out way back (as I wanted to be sure to get the right dirt road again), or pass it on to others. By 9AM we were in the village, Aldo back home, we were thanked profusely, and we started on our way up to Montepulciano.

“Very little time out of the way, and this time we get to enjoy the countryside instead of just worrying about where we are…”

The rest of the drive was almost boring, and we phoned ahead to ask what time they wanted us there. We told them that we were going to stop for breakfast on the way and then would be there quickly after that. They told us to come directly to the house and we would head down into the village for something to start the day. You agreed and so we put off breakfast. I was very thankful that we had thought to put the large memory card in the camera as each turn prompted you to say “Slow down!” as the camera came out and one beauty after another went into memory and photo. The one thing I love about cameras is that they make you take a second or two to actually look at things and decide on their worth, beauty, or just interest. I think that the picture itself is secondary to the memory, and meant only to explain a wonderful find to friends who have not seen what we were passing right now. I loved showing you around places that I consider special, that the thing that I thought most special was that I was now seeing the passing countryside through your eyes, as if I had never seen it before. I noticed things that would have, or had, passed me by completely, and I found the trip far more interesting as your inquisitive nature added to the fact that you did not have to keep your eyes on the road (that’s right, we all look for excuses) allowed me to follow your gaze and pointing camera to things, features, sights that I would have driven right by, oblivious to the wonder of other forms of thought or expression.. This is why I love having you along while I am travelling, I see so much more, consider different points of view, and generally pay attention.

Their house was at the top of a hill, surrounded by wine fields. It was far too big and looked like a hotel more than a country house, but the beauty came from centuries of residence and a true caring for what the house represented. His wife burst out of the house as the car pulled in front of the doors and came over to give me a hug the second the car stopped, then she went around to your side.

“You should have brought her here before… She makes me jealous, far too good looking!!”

You climbed out of the car and introduced yourself as I tried to unpack the words from my mouth and make sure that the car was all right and that our gift was in the back seat. She immediately took your arm and the two of you walked quickly into the house, heads tilted towards each other, chatting quickly in Italian laced English. You looked over your shoulder at me, but I was just smiling and enjoying the scene. I was also sinfully proud of you right at that moment, and knew that you would be exploring the huge house and would make me look very, very good…

My friend came out of the front door and was introduced to you by his wife, now having taken full charge of you. She then hustled you into the house and I brought out the gift and handed it over.

“A little something for after we are gone..” The problem with knowing a great wine grower is that you cannot bring liquor or wine as a gift, the easy choice most other times, so I had to be inventive, and I thought that this would do very well. I was not going to tell him that I had noticed a pair on Ebay and recognized the pair of crystal decanters for what they were, when, by the price, the seller did not know what he had. Upon receiving them I had looked for, and found the faint stamp on the bottom that proclaimed that I had in fact gotten very, very lucky.

We walked inside where the housekeeper had already made North American style coffee, with toast on the side. I took a cup and we went to sit out in the back garden.

“While the ladies are occupied, could I ask you a question?”. He nodded…

“Have you heard of any major theft of statuary over the past few years, or possibly a ring of people who counterfeit old statuary?”

“Counterfeiters there are all over Italy.. We frown on it, but they keep turning out marble statues, or cement casts that they claim are from Roman days, or Renaissance masters. You just have to trust no one and verify. On the other hand, I have not heard of any large theft of statuary…. Out of curiosity, why do you ask?”

Without divulging where we had gone, I gave the general idea of what we had seen. If these people where exactly what they said, protectors without a reason, then I did not want to give away many clues. If however we had stumbled upon something more sinister, then I did want to be a part of the solution. Silence is the helper of the criminal and I did not want to be on that side of the equation.

“Protectors you say… everything is possible. Would you mind if we had a guest for lunch? I promise to keep your little secret, as you seem to be leaving out details, but, at the same time we can do a little intellectual exploration”

You excused yourself and I just sipped the coffee and admired the stretch of manicured garden that flowed downhill from the veranda. He returned after 15 minutes and announced that we would indeed have an extra guest for lunch.

“I took the liberty of phoning an old friend in the carabinieri, or state police, that I call on from time to time when people approach me to buy great works of art. I assure you he is most discreet, but in this case there is no need for discretion as what you describe does not match anything that he is looking for. It is his opinion that they are counterfeiters. Let us drop this until lunch and then we can ‘intellectually explore’ the topic.

A few minutes you and his wife came into the room.

“Have you seen this place?” you asked.

“Most of it.”

“This is marvelous, it is so beautiful… Can I have one?”

I laughed as you said that, and made up my mind to become a billionaire the week after we got home, or at least to love you as if I were a billionaire… whichever came first.

I poured you a coffee, and the housekeeper brought in some small snacks as his wife took you on a tour of the gardens. I knew that formal gardens were not your favourites, but you smiled, and were charming as always as you admired something that she was obviously proud of.

When the tour had finished, we climbed into his car and drove down the mountain. He pointed out different fields that I knew as labels or enjoyable evenings back at home, and small castles nestled on hilltops defending against threats that no longer existed. His wife made us stop at two small villages where she took you into small local shops and we used up yesterday’s and today’s allowance on items that would soon adorn bedrooms or hallways, and always, always memories.

Lunch came sooner than expected, and showed up as if planned by someone who knew his neighbourhood very well. A table in the sun was already set for us, and a well dressed older gentleman seated at the table reading a book.

“Professiore Quarantino” our host introduced the gentleman, “an expert on all things beautiful and wonderful and a old dear friend”

We ordered our lunch and small talk went around the table.

“I was telling our host about the adventure we had yesterday and wondering if his knowledge could shed any light on things. He suggested I talk to the professor”

You got a wary look in your eyes..

“Don’t worry, not details, just the broad outline”

“What adventure?” asked the professor.

I explained in broad strokes the generalities of yesterday making the cave into a gallery and could see his eyes lose interest as it appeared we were just two frivolous North Americans being lured into a counterfeit game. He asked me to give him an idea of what the statues looked like. I mentioned the Diana at the back of the cave entrance and he asked what tint the marble was.

“Oh, it wasn’t marble” you said “just plain stone. Granite if I am not mistaken with veins of color in the stone and evidence that it was once painted”

I had not noticed the painted detail, and I was (as I guess I always am) quite proud.

“Light or dark stone” the professor asked.

“I am not sure, darker rather than lighter… I am just not sure. I am sorry”

The professor was a bit more attentive.

“Anything else?” he asked.

I mentioned the small statues around the edge and the carving with the 30 woodpeckers.

“Trenta picchio…. 30 woodpeckers… are you sure?”

“I counted them as each was very slightly different. I was quite intrigued by that detail”

“But you are sure they were woodpeckers”

“Yes, the person we saw mentioned woodpeckers, and I do know what a woodpecker looks like.”


The professors eyes were definitely more interested, but had not dropped their wariness.

“Could I go see them?”

“I don’t know, I said, it is not my secret to give away, but I can ask if you wish. I know that they are trying to trace the source of some of these.”

“Please, if you could it will most likely be nothing, but in this country the most unlikely things are often possible”

Lunch was as delicious as my friend predicted and the professor had the most wonderful tales of the region and the different families that had come to conquer and stayed to rule. We learned of the Medici, and the Austrian imperial lines. When you mentioned the visit to the Uffizi, he started with things that you must see and stories of some of the more famous pieces. You started jotting notes, I just put my cell phone on the table and pressed the record button. These stories lasted for almost 2 hours and would have gone on all day as both of you were in your element, he was imparting knowledge to a very willing student, and you were learning, questioning, changing the direction of the conversation, retracing explanations that you needed more on. My friend finally begged business considerations that I had to think were made up and lunch ended, but not before the professor promised to meet you on the last day of our visit and personally guide you through one of his favourite places. Back in the car you relived the conversation with my friend’s wife and she added details about some local galleries.

My friend suggested that you two visit galleries until dinner and we would take care of other business. This both ladies accepted with pleasure and, after dropping us off, went to scour the local art scene.

We went in to escape the heat of the early afternoon.

“You seem to think that there is more to this than counterfeiting” my friend observed. “Why don’t you call your friend and find out if the professor can meet with him. That will answer a lot of questions and will transfer the problem to someone else.”

“I do not have a phone number, but do know where to contact him. I could do it now if you wished, or wait until we go back this evening”

“I have a small bit of work to attend to this afternoon if you want to take that time, then you can come here and have dinner with us.”

I told him that I did not want to bother him and his wife, and was told in turn that it would not be a bother at all.

I left and took the car back to the A1, and got off in the direction of Siena. I stopped at the first gas station and remembered the first 8 cars behind me. I am not a suspicious man, nor am I used to intrigue, but this was, as it had stated earlier, not my secret to give away. After filling up, I retraced my steps to the highway and went up the road that was now becoming familiar to the village. I parked the car and went to the father’s inn where Aldo was working outside on the entrance way.

“Interesting work for an art major” I said, and he turned around. The smile on his face told me I was welcome.

“Where is your wife?” he asked looking over my shoulder.

“Touring galleries with the wife of my friend, but that is not why I have come back to see you. I had an interesting conversation at lunch today..”

We went inside where the shade brought a coolness that was much needed.

“We were introduced to a Professore Quaratino” at which point Aldo corrected my pronunciation of the Italian “ and I mentioned, without telling why or where, two or three of the sculptures that we had seen. I tried to make it seem as if they were from a gallery, and he asked if he could meet with you “

Aldo’s eyes lit up at the name of the professor.

“I tried to talk with this man when I came back to Italy, but could never get an appointment. He is and expert in this area and I thought I could get some insight. This would be a very good thing if you could arrange this for me.”

I was very pleased that he had taken my interest in his affairs in a positive manner. I phoned my friend and told him that Aldo would be pleased to meet with the professor. I asked how he wanted to arrange the meeting. There was a moment’s hesitation and he put me on hold… Two minutes later he was back on the line.

“Can you bring him to dinner tonight? I just called the professor and invited him as, even if your friend cannot make it, your lady and the professor have a lot in common and can carry the conversation all night.”

I conveyed the invitation to Aldo, who accepted immediately.

“We will be back before dinner”

“Would it be good if I brought one of the pieces?” Aldo asked.

I suggested the woodpecker carving as it seemed to have struck a chord with the professor and I wanted to see it in better light.

“Just the one I was thinking of” and Aldo disappeared into upstairs to tell his parents where he was going. He also came back with a flat piece of board and cloth. We went up to the cave, where he wrapped the woodpeckers as if they were a baby and held it in his lap as we drove back to my friend’s place.

“You take very good care of these pieces”

“They are not mine, signore, I just care for them and want to know what they are and how they came to be here.”

I changed the subject and asked him, seeing as he was an Art historian, about the art in the district and what we should see in this area that was not on the standard tours. Aldo suggested one after another, and as he was getting further along. I took out the phone, put it into record, and asked him to start all over again. “The phone has a much better memory that I do, and a lot of what you are suggesting sounds very interesting”

Aldo went on for almost half an hour suggesting site after site, and the pride he held in the region, its’ history and artistic accomplishment were evident in his words and enthusiasm. I had heard of one or two of his suggestions in my internet research, but the vast majority of them were completely new. Somehow I had stumbled upon a treasure trove of knowledge and did not want to lose one minute of it.

“You should write a guide to the art treasure of Toscanna” I suggested. “Your knowledge is superb”

“It is nowhere near that of the Professor, this is why I need to talk to him”

We pulled up to my friend’s place.

“Do you know who lives here?” Aldo asked somewhat awed by where we were.

“Yes, a friend”

At that point my friend came out of the front door and, without waiting for me, introduced himself to Aldo while ushering us inside.

Aldo became like you in the art galleries, looking from one wall to the other, seeing things that I did not recognize.

“You have very beautiful things” Aldo said and wandered over to study a painting on a side wall. “I have studied this in books, but had not seen it until now”

My friend was very pleased, as these works were the labour of generations to collect and maintain and he saw them as a duty rather than as a collection. I mentioned this as the thought dawned on me, and told them that they had this love and duty in common.

My friend asked if he could see the package and Aldo opened it slowly, carefully, more a ceremony than an unveiling.

In the light the details of the piece became more evident. The gold work was spectacular the swirling woodpeckers almost seemed alive in the light as the bronzes and silvers caught the light.

“This is no counterfeit” my friend said “and had this been stolen, or even existed, I would have heard of it. This is something I had not even considered, and I am at a loss to tell you what it is”

For my friend to admit that made me smile, for he was usually so knowledgeable on things pertaining to art and the art world.

“We will wait for the professor” and he led us into a sitting room, where the piece was put in a display rack.

He and Aldo started to converse in Italian, and I gathered that he was telling Aldo that normally he would be trying to buy this piece, at which point Aldo interjected that it was not his to sell, and my friend simply smiled and said he knew..

Two glasses of wonderful wine later the ladies returned and both surrounded the woodpeckers and marveled at the intricacies without touching.

“You should take a tour of the artwork in this house” I suggested to you and the wife immediately offered to conduct the tour. Aldo asked if he could come along, although, as he left, he glanced at the piece as if afraid to leave it for one second.

“We will let no one touch this” as if reading his mind, and he left while we settled back to contemplation of the wine…

“This affair of yours becomes much more interesting you know… I cannot wait to see what the professor makes of this.”

As if summoned by the thought the housekeeper ushered in Professor Quarantino, who at first did not notice the woodpeckers. After introductions he asked if the gentleman would be coming tonight. We assured him that Aldo was already here and showed him the piece.

“This is the one that caught my attention” I said.

“Questa e una bellezza, non ci credo… I am sorry, this is beautiful, I do not believe this, may I lift it?”

“I think we should wait for Aldo’s return for that, as it is in his care, and he is most anxious to hear from you”. I told him that Aldo had tried to make an appointment two years ago but had been unable to. The professor could not take his eyes from the sculpture. “Two years, two years”

Aldo returned and judging by the look on his face, and yours for that matter, it had been a very successful tour. My friend’s wife was beaming with pleasure as she loved showing off the house to people who could appreciate and in the two of you she had an enraptured audience.

The professor immediately went to Aldo and introduced himself. The two retired to the corner to examine the piece minutely, the professor handling it with the same reverence that Aldo did. He went out to his car and came back with a briefcase full of glasses and loops, soft cloths and pieces of sponge.

The piece was turned over and examined, the two of them talking rapidly in Italian, the professor first the teacher, now the student, then the collaborator. Many times I heard the “Non ci credo” (Unbelievable) out of the corner or “Andate via” (go away!) as he and Aldo looked at all sides. At one point they walked away from the sculpture and just talked for about half an hour in the garden. When they returned the professor announced that he would be going to visit Aldo tomorrow. Conversation between them over dinner was about details and request on the other peices that were in the “gallery” that I had described. You listened closely for a while but gave up as it was all in Italian and very very fast. The two of them had cut themselves off from the world, or were in a world of their own.

I got the impression that my friend caught every word, but was still able to carry on a delightful conversation about the region and stories of his ancestors and family.

“Are you satisfied?” I asked Aldo after dinner.

“Very… he knows so much and we will be able to see more tomorrow”

“Make sure that you keep control of this, you are the protectors, or that is the role assigned to you, or that you claim. I am very happy that you will be finding out more about your collection, but I do not want some commission coming in to study your pieces just so they can be placed in some rich person’s home. As much as I admire my friend you seem to have something with a heritage to it.”

“The professor has promised secrecy and discretion” Aldo said “and I believe him”.

“Just be careful. This could be a find that benefits him very much and I do not want his dreams to overshadow your obligations, but maybe I worry too much”

You came over and took my hand… “Ready to go home?”

I told Aldo that we were leaving and went to say goodnight to our hosts.

“Quite an adventure today” my friend said “why do you not come back tomorrow? We did not have much time today with all of this happening, and I would still like to have a relaxed day with you like we planned… You are always rushing from one thing to the next”

“I will talk it over with my lady and give you a call tomorrow. I would dearly love to just tour wine fields and old castles and let the world sail on without me for the day.”


Aldo came out with the woodpeckers all wrapped up, still cradling them like they were a baby. I loved the care and yes, protection, he gave these, and thought that as a protector he was just the person for the job.

We drove through the gathering night until we had retuned Aldo to the village.

“I told him that the statues were in a gallery. If you have any doubts you might want to show him some of the pieces at your home and not mention the cave until you really know his intentions. I am sorry for being overly cautious, and I do not even have a feeling that anything is wrong, but you can always tell more, It is often quite hard to take back knowledge that you have given. Think of it as advice from a couple who admires what you are doing…”

Aldo said that he would think about it and took our number and email addresses. You asked one or two questions about the suggestions he had made to me for visits, and we drove back down the mountain again.

It was quite dark when we reach home base, and our hosts checked in on us saying that they had been a bit worried, and that Guillermo had called to find out how we were doing. We bought a nice bottle of wine and took it to the room with us…

“One of the nicest scenic windows in the world and we have been running around after old woodpeckers… Let us just forget we are in Italy tonight, enjoy the room and in the morning we will decide how to spend the rest of our time. As an answer you just came over to where I was sitting, pulled the wine bottle over to where we could both reach it without getting up and crawled into my arms… “What a splendid idea….”