It’s my first landscape. I walk on the road to Corigliano, a small town in Basilicata, Italy, where I’m visiting my family. The road goes through the hills, which are tall and yellow with patches of dark green and burgundy. The sky is light blue, almost white. The colors haven’t changed since I moved away. The men drink Aperol and play cards in bars at sunset, when it’s not so hot anymore. The women sit on the benches, unless they’re young in which case they dance or twirl the hula hoop. It’s quiet except for some dogs barking. As I walk through the woods, I come closer to the dogs. They are fenced in a yard. When I look I see a huge wild boar roaming around the fence, on the opposite side of the road. Wild boars are extremely dangerous. Last week I had heard on the news they attacked and killed two people. It is so big and so close; there’s no way for me to escape. That’s it, I think, somewhat cherishing the fact that it is going to be a painful yet beautiful death, killed by a boar, and then I am immediately amused that I can still lie to myself so easily as I near the end. I don’t run or make weird sounds, keeping in mind the advice I heard on the radio. I keep walking. I have a drum in my heart. After a few minutes I turn around. I’m alone.
I can’t go back down the same road, the only road that will take me back to town. I see a man, a farmer, approaching. His name is Enzo and he seems kind and somewhat puzzled at the sight of a young woman wandering around the country by herself. When he speaks to me he has a low tone of voice, almost a whisper, as if he is talking to a ghost. He says he’ll drive me back to town, but first we have to take his horses to drink. The grass is high and thorny, he warns me, but I tell him that I don’t mind. The sun is setting on the field now, golden and resting in a layer of pink. He tells me about his one daughter now living in South America and about the last time he ever saw his wife. The horses are mares and their names start with M. Miranda, Mara, Murena. Monica just had an offspring. The foal follows her around like an arm. We take the horses to the pond. Enzo picks wild blackberries and fills my cupped hands. I hold them ripe and sweet. I eat them like candies. I’m not dead.
I miss my grandmother. When I was a child, she used to take me down the road from our house and we’d pick blackberries from the bush. The idea was to bring them home and eat them for breakfast, but they never lasted the trip back. When I visit her this time, I notice that she is getting old. She is sharp, and in good health, but I get the feeling that she is growing tired. We drive to the beach early in the morning, when the water is fresh and nobody is around. We sit on the shore and read a book, letting the wind turn the pages. When it gets hot, we swim to the red float and back. Then we sit on the shore and eat fried vegetables, baked rice, and olive bread. I order octopus cut up in a salad with potatoes and parsley. I ask her a lot of questions, like what historical era she’d like to live in if she could choose, and she says in one hundred years when human beings will be a little more civilized. We drink coffee. She tells me not to seek pleasure but to seek things that make you feel good. Every time I visit her she lets me find my favorite sweets in the kitchen. They are made of almond paste and are called cartridges because they’re shaped like shotgun bullets. Each one is wrapped in a piece of wax paper and I count the wraps to know how many I’ve eaten.
In a few days I will fly back to New York. We play cards and laugh when she tells me that once, after an earthquake, she, my grandfather, and my mother ran away to the countryside taking only some blankets and a tray of lasagna with them. Leave the jewelry, those you can’t eat! On the last day here I take a long walk through the olive trees. The sky is purple and the clouds are soft like cream cones. Some of them almost a thousand years old. Their trunks are twisted like bodies and bulge like knuckles. They are beautiful. Everything breathes in a low hum of crickets. As it gets dark, the crevasses in the trees’ faces grow black like fists. I pass by the stable where the horses rest and change color. I find a fig tree. My grandfather used to tell me to look for the honey drop at the bottom of the fig, that’s how you know it’s good. I pick one and eat it right off the leaf. Venus hangs low in the brilliant dusk. I suck the juice from its heart. It’s the sweetest thing.