The Tuscan Neighbor
We have a neighbor in Italy, his name is Giustino. He is a venerable character now, but spent his formative years as a farmer and real estate man in Cortona. Since I have known him (about 15 years), he has always been old, but very steady and strong. His property hooks around ours and for years he has toiled in a labor of love tending the olive and fig trees as well as a vast tomato garden. He keeps the land immaculate and I have always admired the techniques and skill he employs. The story is told he bought the house and land for a relative, but they didn’t want it, so he kept it as a pet project of sorts. Driving his little Fiat from Cortona to Terontola in the early mornings to work the land, Giustino would be at it as I woke up almost every morning. Giustino is a sweet man to speak with even though I can barely understand him. I greet him each day with a bellowing, “Boun Giorno Senor!” across the rosemary bushes. He smokes a cigarette every half hour on the mark as he works and his voice is a gravely tuscan accented Italian. He speaks with a smile, the edges of his lips up turned, bright eyes deep-set into a face that has worked under the sun for all its years. In Italian, they would say he is, he isn“persona gentile”. I truly grew to love the man over the years.
This year when we arrived the first thing i noticed was his ill-kept garden. Where Giustino tilled the land and pruned the fig trees, carefully arranging the cut boughs around the trunks, weeds had overtaken. The tomato vines were strewn across the ground, not staked and were yielding poorly. I barely recognized the land, as i had never seen it return to nature but only under the sure hand of Giustino. I feared the worst, for it was obvious that finally the years had prevailed on my neighbor and the land would be wild with out his steady efforts.
Then eleven days into the trip, as I woke up and walked out to the gardens I heard a familiar sound, the “Tick, Tick, Tick” staccato of Giustino working the land with a till! Was it phantasm or phantom of Giustino’s soul spirit bound to the earth? I hurried over and spied him behind the fig tree, clearing the ground beneath it. I ran back into the house and grabbed my trusty Sony RX10 mk 2 and positioned myself so as to be hidden and make exposures while observing my suddenly alive and kicking neighbor. He paused for a moment and rummaged through his jacket pockets to procure a pack of cigarettes, then sat down on his ramshackle well and took a smoke break. I silently laughed and was reassured. Time and the reaper be damned, Giustino lives!
It turns out earlier in the year, Giustino got into a car accident and hurt himself direly while totaling the Fiat. His family won’t let him get a new car and Giustino is subject to the whims of neices and nephews providing rides down to Terontola from Cortona. We spoke, and he is ok now, but was bedridden for several months. He is disappointed he can’t continue as he had, but regardless, keeps his back bent into the work when he can. He lamented how embarrassed he was to have his field look as it did when we arrived. Steady and with dedication over the next two weeks Giustino secured his daybreak rides down and miraculously for one so frail, he cleared the land, trimmed, cut and organized the excess boughs and brought the field to garden status.
On our last night’s aperativo in Cortona, we ran into Giustino sitting with his friends at an outside bar. It took him a moment to recognize us in the shadowy street but when he did, his eyes lit up and that chiseled smile warmed us, and somehow deep inside, I know next year’s summer will bring us together again. Long live Giustino!
A final note about these images for the gear heads our there. All images shot with a Sony RX10mk2 jpg right out of the camera with the monochrome picture mode applied. My NIK Silver Efx is now out of date with the latest Photoshop CC2018, so my normal digital B&W workflow was upset. Instead of doing the update, I did an ever so slight edit to darken corners and minor curves adjustment in Photoshop. The image quality out of the Sony RX10 continues to amaze me. I have raved about this camera in earlier posts and really think it’s just a solid performer that is capable of wonderful image making in the hands of a proficient photographer. I included in each picture’s description the camera settings.
Next blog post will be my summer drone work of Italy.