“Govier astonishes throughout in her ability to write epic themes intimately.” Publishers’ Weekly
New postcard from Katherine
Postcard #49 from Italy: A Castle in Tuscany
I’m spending a week at a medieval castle in the middle of nowhere. That’s how people describe this retreat, anyway. I bid on it in a silent auction to benefit the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. We invited some friends to join us and then we waited out the pandemic for two and a half years, and now we are here. It is a mad, huge, gorgeous old ‘castello’ purchased on the spoils of publishing (back when there were such spoils) and run by the descendants of a famous writer.
Twisty, hilly highways led us here from Rome. Or I should say Google led us here, through a tangle of rising and falling ribbon-roads. We slept in a canopied bed with great balloons of fabric tied up above our heads. We reclined in massive old furniture leaning against the walls in an Alice-in-Wonderland way. We arose to open casement windows giving views of vineyards and woodlots and a nearly dry “torrent”. It is hot outside but cool within. The walls have been built, destroyed, and rebuilt, over ten centuries. They are three feet thick. Our host tells us that when she and her team started the restoration, they were also full of scorpions. Ok, they were small ones.
The castello was the centre, once, of a tiny perfect kingdom. Its series of owners and users mostly had to do with war and runs from Knight Templars, to a mercenary soldier and his heirs, to an industrialist who sold it in small lots to the long-term estate workers. But these smallholders didn’t prevail, which is why the land is semi-wild, a patchwork of olive trees, grape vines and forest. The present owners bought up all the pieces and set to work restoring with passion and creativity. To be here is to be in a golden bowl, smiled upon by the sun, fed by fertile soil, soothed by beauty and diverted by an eccentric library, far from dread. Far from everything. Did I mention that the WIFI was down?
There is a pool subtly placed to capture the whimsical breezes. This afternoon I sat in the hot sun watching the pool sweep mouthing away at the bottom like an octopus with one very long tentacle. A dark khaki plane sliced the sky and its roar silenced the cuckoos. It cast a sharply pointed, momentary cloud. Italian airforce on manoeuvres. But never mind.
And now it’s evening. We sip the castello’s wine: a teaspoon of ganache in the mouth creates thrills of taste and sensation. Our host draws our attention to the feeling of dryness, to salivation. Let your minds go, she says. What does the scent bring back? For me it is a playground called Tipton Park on a white June night in Edmonton, Alberta probably sixty years ago; the caragana bushes smell of licorice when you pop the bloom. Far from Tuscany’s roses and violets but suddenly alive in me.
For dinner we sit at this table with the candles placed at even intervals over its thirty foot length. We talk about our visit to the Vatican Museum. How Rome made us shudder about the cruelty and torture of Christianity. Why the obsession?
Someone says it’s all to contrast with the joys of the next life: believers will be rescued from torment when they shuff off this mortal coil.
And I think, have we already done that? Maybe this is the next life, the afterlife, our reward. Have we died and gone to heaven? There may be no other way to justify our good fortune, our blessings, the security and peace we enjoy, right now for instance compared with being slaughtered by Russians or shrouded at home by the Taliban. I want this to last, and I want us all to be here.
THE SHOE PROJECT
Katherine started The Shoe Project in Toronto in 2011. She knew newcomer women had much to give to Canada but were often sidelined by lack of writing and speaking skills in English.
Art In Fiction