spring’s around the corner…

the tuscan "giglio"“giglio fiorentino”

present on all things Tuscan, from stationary to printed Florentine paper, to the soccer jerseys of the Fiorentina team, the “giglio” (bearded iris) is also used to make perfumed powder, soaps, eau de toilette etc. It was a historic, traditional source of perfume, and places like the famous pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella still use it today.

back in the time of “mezzadria”, or sharecropping, one of the few plants that Tuscan farmers could grow on their own rocky land and not have to share with the landowners, was this iris. Combined with the fact that it is quite hardy and easy to propagate, it was – and is – a beloved plant that is seen all over Tuscany, usually in the month of April.

Some Tuscans still remember helping their grandmothers (perfume and nasty work are always the woman’s realm) harvest, peel, dry and pound into a powder the roots or rhizomes of these flowers. i’ve been told it left fingers sore and bleeding…. i’ll sign off on that lovely note!

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Midnight in Volterra

A winter’s night in Tuscany. The babies are sleeping soundly, the Christmas lights are still up and on the trees outside, making the dark night a little less so. They’re almost the only lights to be seen for miles… there are the far-off twinkles of the lights of Pomarance, the town on the next high ridge west of Volterra, and the stars. That’s it. Every now and again I’ll hear the distant vibration-rumble of a truck on the main road, but other than that, silence reigns (except when Francesco snores). It is unusually warm this winter, with not a flake of snow to have been seen yet. We’ve almost given up hope, as the tulips and daffodils are already starting to push up out of the earth and the mimosa tree seems ready to precociously turn its bud-laden branches into an explosion of yellow poufs.

grey morning

off in the distance to the west, the sun pokes its way out of the otherwise complete blanket of grey clouds. it highlights the tufts of vapor rising out of the land that, if you hadn’t seen them up close, would seem to be surprisingly white refuse coming out of smoke stacks of some industrial complex criminally placed in the middle of meditation-inducing rolling green hills…. instead (i’ve seen them up close!) it’s the vapor coming out the cooling towers of the geothermal power plant in and around Larderello.                                     green energy. silver vapor. grey morning.