Mourning for “le mura” in Volterra: a tract of 13th c. walls collapsed last night

Last night, following days of intense rain, a 20 to 30 yard stretch of Volterra’s Medieval walls collapsed. When I woke up this morning and turned on RaiNews 24 one of the headlines was “Bad Weather in Tuscany: the Arno River is threatening to flood, schools closed in Pisa and 30-meters of Medieval wall have fallen down in Volterra”.

After dropping the kids off at school (safely located far from the walls…) we walked up to Piazzetta dei Fornelli to discover that together with the walls went part of the road “Via Lungo le Mura” that lay just inside the walls. The void that once gave people vertigo as they looked over the walls towards the Cecina Valley now reaches the foundations of the homes. There is no road, no sidewalk, no way to get into your home or store, all the way to the panoramic terrace that is just beneath the covered staircase called “Vicolo degli Abbandonati”. The terrace is still there… but just barely.

after

aftermath…

About 100 yards downhill from this road and stretch of walls “that-were” you reach Volterra’s great Etruscan monument – the 4th c. B.C. Porta all’Arco. I feel ill thinking, wondering, fearing that this landslide could in any way compromise its structural integrity. If you have been to Volterra and seen this stone gate, if you know its history, you will understand the emotional involvement that Volterrans have with it. The Porta all’Arco is a part of them.

The loss of these 13th-century walls is enough, and I pray that the damage stops there (the forecasts say we should expect another 6 days of non-stop rain). How could they have stood so mightily for 800 years, enduring endless sieges under the Florentines, a mistaken attack by the Allied troops in WWII, and then give up now? I perhaps shouldn’t give fault to the walls, be angry with them… but if not them, who? Surely there is something we have done wrong to let this happen…

As I walked away from the scene this morning, I realized the void was more than physical as a tear slid down my cheek.

wildflowers of a Tuscan winter

Each time I go out into my garden (which, apart from a few rose bushes, irises and cacti, is pretty much a wild field), take a walk down a country lane, or a little hike in the woods, I can’t stop myself from picking wildflowers. It may very well be an illness. And I wonder if it might even be illegal…But that’s not the point. I simply get overwhelmed by the stunning beauty and complexity of the flora here.
Now if I had ever really taken the time to stop and look (and yes, smell) the flowers back home in Washington D.C., I am sure I would have been in awe even there. But there is something about living year-round in Tuscany that makes it very hard to not start to synch with the natural world around you, to live by its rhythm, and marvel at the details of its creations.
Yesterday on a brief stroll down the hill from my house I picked this little bunch:

Image

viburnum tinus what locals call leccio peloso which translates as “hairy oak” and has these incredible little dark-blue berries that can be iridescent, and also produces tiny little white and dusty-pink flowers in clusters
rosemary with its delicate little purple flowers, symbolizing remembrance and steadfast love
sage symbolizing wisdom
arugula  with its delicate little clusters of white flowers (it grows wild in the fields here and used to be called erba puzza or “stinky grass” because if you fed it to animals even their meat would smell)
olive branches of course a symbol of peace, but also of bounty and purity – in fact ancient Greek brides carried olive branches as we today have a bouquet

the magnificent Palazzo dei Priori

Built between 1208 and 1257, it is the oldest Town Hall building in Tuscany, the first of its kind in that revolutionary Age of City-States. The mayor’s office is still inside, it is where town council meetings are held and spectacular weddings are celebrated. A steadfast presence in Volterra’s vibrant civic life.

Volterra's Town Hall

Volterra’s Town Hall
after a spring shower

Historic, but also beautiful. Every hour, everyday, with each new cloud drifting in or each dip in the sun’s arc over our heads, this magnificent palace presents itself in a different way, expressing a different mood, almost as if it were a mercurial being.

scorched earth overlooking the village of Mazzolla

this year it has been dry. that’s an understatement for ya’.
ARPAT (the Region of Tuscany’s Environmental Agency) said that Western Tuscany has had less rainfall than Northern Africa over the past two years.

in fact it never rained a drop from the first week of June until the first week of September. centuries-old trees are dying, and even the deep-rooted olive trees, if they are still alive, won’t be producing many olives this year. crops of all kind have suffered, and it seems to be a terrible year for truffles as well. beware, truffle-lovers, the little white truffle that may be found this fall will probably cost double the usual market price.

may it rain and the earth drink!

what a drought will do – fields that look like shaggy dogs

a beautiful spring wedding

last week holly and lou were married in the town hall of Volterra, serenaded by the magnificent voice of the mezzo-soprano elisa bartolini. it was a magical moment, a beautiful setting for two people so very much in love.

after all the spring rain, our garden is bursting with flowers, and the roses are particularly beautiful this year. i put together a garden bouquet with our antique pink & magenta roses, sage blossoms, pink lupines, rosemary and wild sweetpeas.

spring skyline of Volterra

Spring is flying by. The empty winter streets of Volterra are a thing of the past. Every year it takes some getting used to being around people again, when visitors descend on the town and we locals end our winter hibernation. Every now and again, on totally random days, the town is packed full of tourists. Usually the next day the town is half-empty again. I’ve never been able to figure out how to predict this seemingly random phenomenon. There must be some law of tourism nature, like poor old Murphy’s law… maybe we can call it “Rick’s law”.

After the initial adjustment period, having Volterra filled with people is wonderful. It really does feel like coming out of hibernation. Life resumes. For us, but also for the town, as if it were an animate being.