As I write this, I’m sitting at my outdoor office. This consists of a three-foot travertine slab, resting on a wrought-iron base, with matching chairs. Flies are buzzing nearby and green-striped lizards dart into and out of chinks in the stone wall beside my desk. Above the wall, billowing masses of rosemary.
Below the patio where I sit, a small grove of silvery olive trees, and beyond these, the land plunges into steep, rolling hills and acres of Sangiovese vines, heavy with purple-black grapes. You pluck a few. After months of concentrated sun and heat, they’re almost too sweet. You walk down the road, and the faintly sour aroma of crushed, fermenting grapes reaches you from miles around and renders you strangely giddy.
On rainy days or when mornings are cool, my office shifts to the main building, where we take our dinner. It’s two storeys tall, but the ceilings are so high it feels like you’re climbing an extra couple of floors to arrive at its cupola. Here, there’s a square wooden table, where I work, with large windows on four sides and views of the gravel road and surrounding hills.
I also have a view of a pair of tall Scandinavians, husband and wife, who’ve spent the past week chasing their toddler from one hazard to another. The kid’s face is always smeared with food, and he runs around bare-assed and giggling, oblivious to his parents’ exhaustion.
Robots of Tuscany
We have small green robots running around the grounds and cutting the grass. Apparently, they’re quite common — even John Deere makes several models — but I’ve never seen anything like them before. (I really should get out more often.) These are Italian-made, from Zuchetti Robotics. They trundle about quietly, at the civilised pace of a very old man taking the air and savouring his regrets.
Sensors generally prevent the Zuchettis from bumping into walls and straying onto gravel paths. They pause, recalculate, back up and swivel around. They spend their days contentedly munching on grass, and their nights slumbering in their little garages.
It often feels, though, as if you’re in some low-budget Sixties science fiction movie. I expect one of these robots to arrive bearing a tray of gin-and-tonics and a bowl of peanuts.
You’re talking with someone and, from the corner of your eye, you notice one of these little guys jammed against a giant planter. Alas, his sensor has failed him. His little spiked wheels continue to grind, and he digs himself deeper and deeper into the lawn. You take pity, walk over and give him a nudge. He emerges from his temporary trance, backs up and trundles off, with barely a thank-you.
A sort of running
I’ve been running here, too. Although running doesn’t begin to describe the soul-destroying hills in every direction. The main road is 2.75 km from here, mostly straight up, along stretches of gravel and asphalt. It’s so steep that the road surface is just inches from your nose, and your hands instinctively reach out for rungs, to pull yourself up.
On my first day at the agriturismo, I couldn’t make it the entire way without slowing to a walk several times. So I set myself a goal: by the end of our two weeks here, I would be able to run the entire way without stopping.
I mention this to a new acquaintance from faraway Alaska. “Why?” she asks, not unkindly. “Why set goals? Why not just enjoy the scenery?”
I have no ready answer.