For the next four weeks, I will be publishing a suite of stories I wrote about a trip to Tuscany in 1997. It began as an experiment in writing in the second person, just to see if I could sustain it through one story…then two, then more. You decide if I was successful.
By Sarah White
Open your eyes.
There it is, all that you glimpsed in shadow last night, now, do you see it lit with Tuscan sunshine?
The underside of the mansard roof. A rough wooden support diagonal from the chimney corner, carrying the rafters up to the central peak. Do you see the bottoms of red tiles, the neat rows of half-barrels. How can it seem at once so exotic and so homey?
I got you here, I made the arrangements that led to your waking in a rented villa with a husband beside you and his best friend across the hall.
I ordered this moment from a catalog.
But it is you who is coming alive for the first time today. And what you will do in the next few minutes may establish an entirely new history and future of you.
So, now, what will it be?
Jim is already up, just going downstairs to figure out coffee. You go down to the living room and, cold as that room is, begin doing yoga stretches. You have not done this in months, but it seems right at this moment, and soon you are warm and shedding the kinks of airplane seats and baggage-handling.
Scott comes yawning down the stairs, tussled and cute as a toddler.
“Do you always do stretches?” he asks.
Honest enough for the new you.
The coffee is ready: bitter black espresso in the moka pot. Jim is taking his straight but Scott opts for con latte, quickly warming the milk.
How do you take your coffee, in this new life?
You choose latte too.
Yet it is not likely that you will sit in your new room exploring yourself. Tourism is the game at hand.
For the next few days, repeat this pattern . . .
All of you bound together, driving to some point of interest, “making tourism” (which is a way of saying you marched about old towns reading guidebooks and stopping for little meals) and coming home to the villa.
You give names to your new selves—Scott becomes Guido, a play on words, for this name means both “guide” and “I drive.” Jim borrows the name Hercule from a shopkeeper, and makes a personality for himself as the artisan chef. Guido and Hercule honor you with the title Principessa, and you benevolently ruled your municipality of two. If Scott has contributed the helpful manservant, and Jim the kitchen staff, you have contributed their kindly autocrat employer.
You budget the days in your portfolio.
Today is Jim’s: Your threesome will set off for San Gimignano, a destination he has heard praised.
Tuesday is yours; the destination the Camaldoli, an enchanted forest tended by monks you have read about.
Wednesday belongs to Scott, and he leads you on a mission to make contact with a subculture. Following up an Internet connection, you spend a day in Florence studying not art, but the evolution of popular music.
Each day your making of tourism ends closer to home.
The calm hill country of Chianti, Land of the Black Rooster, is having its magical effect on you. It is as if the old farmhouse has a taproot deep into that earth, and each morning the travelers wake more nourished, closer to health.
On the last morning in Tuscany, the weather is clear. The three of you stroll away from the doorstep, discovering a network of trails that lead away across the vineyards. Botanizing, philosophizing, rambling in conversation and in navigation, you angle toward a village over the hills to the south.
You three follow the vines down one valley and up the next. Between you, the peace is unbroken, unspoken, securely held by its three corners. It is not just you who has come alive in this week, invented yourself fresh without sin or history. Three of you have enjoyed this miracle.
In morning light like thin honey you celebrate, stooping to touch the Mother. A snail shell rewards your hand and goes into your pocket.
Your work here is finished.
(c) 1997 Sarah White. Tune in next week for the next installment…