Only today looking for your email address to send my usual Christmas greetings, I found that I missed reading your reply last year. So, only now I learn that Philip has passed away. I’m very, very sorry for your loss. You were a special couple, different from most of my clients, and because of this, I always remember you and your stay with great pleasure. My prays this Christmas will be for Philip.
All the best, Joan, and warmest regards,
This email arrived in my inbox on Christmas morning 2016. It was from the host of the inn above Santa Margherita, Italy. Philip and I stayed there for a week in the summer of 2011. We loved Roberto–warm, funny, intelligent, and generous.
Philip was a terrible traveler whose romantic ideals were nearly impossible to satisfy. But he was happy at Roberto’s inn. No complaints, no grousing. Ahhh … peace. Our room was comfortable and quaint. The inn was poised above the bustle of Santa Margherita, and the turquoise sea below glittered in the Italian sun.
And if that wasn’t enough, there were ancient fig trees … and … it was fig season. Luscious ripe fruit dropped from the trees. Philip was in heaven.
Our days were sweet with figs. We kissed with figs. We re-enacted one of D.H. Lawrence’s most sensuous scenes from—was it Women in Love? –when a fig is delicately pulled apart, its pink flesh compared to a woman’s most private part.
However, picking up fallen treasures from the ground was not enough for Philip. So, I found myself standing beneath a 100-year-old tree anxiously looking up as Philip clambered from branch to branch to reach the top. This was where–he predicted–the best sun-ripened fruits would be. At 64, climbing trees was still in Philip’s repertoire, especially when motivated by fruit. All over Europe and England, I stood like this as he happily scaled the branches of trees and trellises reaching for stolen cherries, apples, peaches, and plums.
We had a pretty good idea this was something Roberto would not encourage. Insurance might not cover guests falling from trees. Hence, we waited for when we hoped he’d be occupied. Philip rustled, figs fell all around me, and I whispered up to him to hurry. I imagined the local headline reading, “Guest falls from 100-year-old fig tree but dies fully sated.” Humming, laughing, and undoubtedly eating his way to the top, he was drunk on figs. Hissing at him to come down was pointless.
And then, much to my chagrin, along came Roberto with a newly arrived family. Greeting me, they stopped to talk under the shade of the venerable tree. I’d just had time to warn Philip to be quiet, but his foot slipped, causing a rain of figs to cover all of us.
When Roberto, looked up to see Philip peering down, he shouted, “You crazy guy. Get down from there!”
Philip climbed down, shirt stained, pockets bulging. Leaping gracefully from the lowest branch, he alighted–face fig-smeared and sheepish. Roberto, shaking his head, quickly moved the family along.
Later in the day, our kind host arrived at our door with a large bowl full of figs and said, “Senior Heiman, I bring these to you, please.”
My guess is Roberto keeps this memory in his collection of crazy-guest-tales. I certainly keep it in my heart and was delighted to find it popping up as his birthday comes around again. Hard to imagine, he’d have been 74 today–November 19. Happy Birthday, Love.
10 years and a lifetime since Santa Margherita and Philip in figgy-Heaven, Roberto and I still exchange Christmas greetings. Each year, his holiday message brings the sweet sorrow of joy and absence. As time passes (6+ hard-to-fathom years since Philip’s death), pain softens, memories soothe, tears bring smiles, and longings continue to kindle love.