Thursday, 25 March 2010

Home Thoughts from Abroad


I’m back in Italy, where the weather is a warm 20 degrees and the blossom is breaking on the almond trees. Cold England, still creeping reluctantly out of winter, is a thousand miles north. To spend April in Italy is a dream for many people. Only this morning I read a review on one of the book blogs of ‘Enchanted April’, a novel written in the 1920s by Katherine Mansfield’s cousin, Elizabeth von Arnim, and now re-issued because it’s been made into a film (fearfully romantic and Merchant Ivory). Elizabeth spent a month at Portofino (not far from here) with her daughter, in a castle on the headland looking out over the Mediterranean, and this idyllic holiday inspired the book. She made it sound so idyllic that the book-blogger sighed for the opportunity to be in Italy for April - "there is nothing I would like to do more than spend April in Italy right now!" and I guess most other people would echo the sentiment.
So I feel like an ungrateful criminal to confess that I’m homesick. But if so, I’m not the first to think nostalgically about England while living the Italian dream. My mother was of the generation that learnt poetry by heart at school and one of the poems she loved was Robert Browning’s ‘Home thoughts from Abroad’. The Brownings lived in Florence (about two hour’s drive) and so I think there must be something about the contrast between the Italian spring and its English cousin that makes us suddenly sentimental.
Oh to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!

But it isn’t really England that I’m homesick for - after all, I’ve just spent a month in London with my daughter and her beautiful baby Isabela. No, it’s my own home that I’m beginning to pine for - my familiar rooms, which probably resemble Miss Haversham's after five months of dust and neglect, and my garden where the weeds will be growing faster than the flowers. I haven’t seen my home since I left at the end of October. Like Bilbo Baggins, I long for homely things - rooting around in my own cupboards and drinking tea out of my own mugs. The irony is that, if I could magic the house here to the Tuscan landscape, I would be perfectly happy. It’s not the country - it’s that little womb-like space I call Home.

For those of you longing for Italy - here’s the trailer for Enchanted April.



As for me, I’m going to enjoy my Italian spring, even though I keep thinking of something else my mother used to recite - John Masefield’s poem of longing for the native country - one that seems very like the north-west lake district with it’s brown hills and daffodils. It's called 'The West Wind', and it's completely over-the-top slushily romantic.

It's a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds' cries;
I never hear the west wind but tears are in my eyes.
For it comes from the west lands, the old brown hills.
And April's in the west wind, and daffodils.

2 comments:

  1. Lovely literary post full of feeling
    wx

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  2. Lovely post.

    I have to get to Italy one of these decades.

    Al

    Publish or Perish

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