September arrived and with it, any thoughts of writing vanished. My birthday; a long-awaited holiday. Both beckoned. But somewhere in the space between early spring and autumn’s first flush, everything blurred into one big smudge of I can’t face it.
We heal, eventually, from family illness and loss, but scars do not disappear. And something, at some point, has to give, even if only for a short while. My long-burn writing dream never died, but in the deep, silent part of me, my ability to focus, to write, lay in tatters.
So I retreated into long walks by the sea and drinking wine in my garden, listening to the birds singing their sweet September song. I offered up my writing, like a bird held gently in both hands, and I let it go and watched it fly away.
And then, with gentle persuasion, I took Hubby’s hand and I flew away too, on our long-awaited holiday to Lake Garda in Italy.
Stunning views of the Alps, lakes and the Black Forest as we flew above France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria on this beautiful, blue sky day. The Stewardess knew something, as she returned with not one, but three gin and tonics – each! – with a knowing wink. It wasn’t just the hum of the plane’s engine that was buzzing… (c) Sherri Matthews 2016
From Verona airport, we travelled on for not quite two hours to the north-western shore of the Lake, where, against the backdrop of the Italian Alps, sits the exquisite and historic village of Limone.
The name Limone is Italian for ‘lemon’, and lemons and other citrus fruits once grew in abundance in the now ancient lemon groves, dating back to the 14th century. The terraced columns of the Limonaia del Castèl are still clearly visible.
During the summer, they are opened up by candlelight for visitors to tour, with lemon trees still grown, albeit in smaller quantities.
But ‘Limone’ is also the Latin word for ‘boundary’. Lake Garda is made up of three regions; Limone is part of the Brescia province, in the Lombardy region.
Limone also, quite possibly, holds the secret to long life: In the 1970s, during a routine medical check-up, a man was discovered to have high levels of cholesterol but without any of the expected damage. Doctors went on to discover that this man, members of his family and a small community in Limone, all carried a type of protein that keeps cardiovascular disease at bay. Hopes continue that this protein can be replicated for the general population, but so far, we wait.
The view from our balcony was truly spectacular.
To the right ~
And to the left ~
The ever-changing skyline transformed the mountains as a work of art ~
The walk down to the lakeside took us down narrow – and steep! – cobbled streets ~
Past houses bursting with blossoming bougainvillea ~
And shops filled to the brim with every good thing ~
For a quiet place to sit, there is no lack of cafes, bars and restaurants ~
And then we found the harbour ~
We walked along the beach ~
Places to dine, take in the view, relax, pop up everywhere in Limone ~
And swans enjoy the lake too ~
But even as lost as I was in all this beauty and tranquility, it wasn’t until we visited Malcesine across the water, only a twenty-minute boat ride way, that I found true magic.
The beaches and streets and harbour of Malcesine were just as gorgeous `
as those of Limone ~
But it was while walking around The Scaliger Castle that I felt a familiar stir, like a breeze, in that deep, silent place where my writing lay in tatters.
Not just the stunning vistas, but a glorious history ~
The 13th century castle has been extended over centuries, owned by The Scaliger Dukes of Verona and later by the Austrians in the 19th Century.
As I climbed higher, the view became ever more breathtaking ~
I reached the bell at the very top ~
And then, as I walked through the castle, I read this, quoted from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era:
‘How I wish my friends could be with me for a moment to enjoy the view which lies before me.‘ J W Goethe, from Torbole, 12th September, 1796.
I felt just the same way ~
Writings and sketches by Goethe filled the castle and I realised, to my thrill, that I was walking in his footsteps, for he had once visited this very castle during his ‘Italian Journey‘ in 1786. Forced by strong winds to take harbour at Malcesine, he wandered up to the ruins of the castle for some peace and quite, but someone crept up on him and stole some of his work.
It caused an outcry as Goethe was suspected of being a spy, but his ‘gentlemanly appearance and his power of oration’ won the day. From then on, thanks to the high regard for Goethe and his visit, albeit an unplanned one, Malcesine became the tourist haven that it is today.
Reading about Goethe’s Italian Journey inspired me more deeply than I at first realised. Stopping for a light lunch, we found a quiet place just off from the harbour ~
There, I found a moment of rare and sublime contentment. Enjoying a bowl of homemade minestrone soup and a glass of Prosecco, languishing in September’s Mediterranean warmth, I could not take my eyes off the green shutters facing me.
At the table in front of them, a family of three adults finished lunch and for a little while, nobody sat there.A man played a violin over by the harbour and two small children laughed as they chased one another down by the water, but through the world passing by, words tumbled out of the deep, dark place where they had slept inside me, undisturbed, for so long.
‘One would need a thousand styluses to write with. What can one do here, with a single pen? And then, in the evening, one feels exhausted after so much looking and admiring.’ J W Goethe, 5th November, 1786.
And then, at the empty table, sat my dad. Not a ghost, not a vision. He was just there, smiling, telling me to enjoy my life, to laugh and love and to LIVE it.
That evening, back in my hotel room, I took out my single pen and notebook, unused for too long, and my writing returned. I wrote ‘Green Shutters’, and I found the flow of my memoir, inspired when I least expected it by my own Italian journey.
And I’ll say Buon Appetito to that.