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Timeless in Tuscany

It’s 3 o’clock on a Saturday. Saturn-Day, as in Saturn, the great teacher. We’ve arrived. The grandfather clock behind the reception desk stands still, frozen at some previous, unspecified 4 o’clock. Looking closely, I make out the phrase on its face: tempus fugit.

“Sed fugit interea,

fugit inreparabile tempus,

singular dum capti

circumvectamur amore” 

Virgil, Georgics

“Fugit inreparabile tempus” (It escapes, irretrievable time), wrote the poet Virgil — later expressed in English as: time flies.

While time may fly, it can also stop for a spell. Also not flying on this day: our luggage — left behind by the airline along the way. We check in and then go to the center of this piccolo villaggio, hoping for a shop with swimsuits.

Aha, a shop: Fata Morgana. This is the Italian name of the Fairy Morgana, the sorceress Morgan le Fay in Arthurian legend.

Fata Morgana is also the name of a mirage of sorts, visible above the horizon, once believed to be fairy castles conjured up by witchcraft. Now known as an “optical phenomenon.” They are sometimes seen in the Strait of Messina — these fairy castles/mirages/optical phenomena. This shop, however, is convincingly sensate. I touch the stone of the building as we take the few steps down into a cool interior, and immediately draw to us swimsuits that we like, that fit. While I realize that does sound like a fairy tale — it is real. The owner is an artist, creator of the colorful jewelry on display in her shop. And on a counter, I see a pair of earrings she has engraved with these words:

“Art has no time”.

This catches my attention. I was just thinking that we are not living in a time, anywhere. We are going through a transition — and in a transition — there is no “time”, at least not as we have known it. No–it is n art. Transition. An art? In art? Yes. One’s choice.

The center of Bagno Vignoni is a pool with hot springs from a volcanic source. In the rectangular pool, 49 by 24 meters (161 by 79 feet), the water bubbles and ripples – embraced by its wall and surrounded by golden-tan and cream-colored travertine stone buildings. Strolling around the piazza, in the path between the pool and the buildings feels like walking in between gentle, lovely parents, secure in your place in the world. In addition to dwellings, the piazza features a few shops, restaurants, cafés; an inn and spa. Some steps further and we are in another shop, greeted by its sprightly owner. In this shop, Maledetti Toscani, I find a shirt with flying dragons, made from Tencel and algae. Tempus fugit.

The name of the shop is also the title of a book by the 20th century journalist and novelist Curzio Malaparte — born Kurt Erich Suckert to a German father and an Italian mother. Maledetti Toscani (Damned Tuscans). This reminds me, it’s good to be at least somewhat prepared for the Tuscan tone and wit before one’s arrival, lest the irony fly over your head, along with the time and the dragons…

There are other garments in the shop printed with excerpts from Dante’s Divine Comedy, but only from Inferno. What is it about hell that captures the human imagination so?

Interviewed in This Jungian Life podcast episode, “Time and Truth about Its Use”, the author Oliver Burkeman referred to a headline in a Catholic magazine, “Heaven: will it be boring?” 

It seems as if the tension, tragedy, conflict, and drama in the circles of hell continue to hold human attention — and along with that, comes the learned helplessness that locks people in hell or keeps them in loops of purgatory.

Burkeman also cited the work of Cathleen Kaveny, professor of law and theology – who wrote about the deep unhappiness and alienation of lawyers – linking this to the commodification of their time. It is the billable hour, according to professor Kaveny: “which ultimately reduces the value of time to money, [and] is deeply inimical to human flourishing.” As lawyers “internalize this commodified account of their time, they may find themselves increasingly alienated from events in their lives that draw upon a different and non-commodified understanding of time”. 

While Kaveny wrote about the legal profession, Burkeman and others have recently underscored the broader relevance: “The billable hour is a trap more and more of us are falling into” (Tim Harford, Financial Times, 29 April 2022).

As the Jungian analyst Deborah Stewart so aptly describes it:

“I’m thinking about this from the point of view of ego, versus something else — the something else that allows us to drop down and drop into a kind of timeless space – and find that sort of still point of the turning world versus our so-called rational and cognitive capacities that deceive us into thinking that doing things and pleasing people and getting through our to-do lists — that that’s the priority. And that — it’s just not true. Giving it such prominence as if it is the reality — is the falsehood.”

That’s the mirage.

We are around the other side of the piazza now, and can see Fata Morgana. Something is gleaming at the entrance, reflecting light across the square. We take a seat at an outdoor café, and enjoy an espresso and gelato. We linger in the sunshine and observe the tide of tourists and time travelers: a group of cyclists from France and Belgium, a large family from Rome enjoying the countryside; pilgrims on their way to Rome, resting from their journey on the Via Francigena; solo travelers, couples and friends from various places, together for now in this time and space.

There is time here, naturally — even if so many clocks have stopped. Its presence and movement delineated by light, its dance across and over the hills; the rhythms of life on our rotating earth, opening the way for a deeper dive into each moment. We create a bouquet that will stay fresh as long as our imaginations nourish it; so we can always breathe in the memories: entering and floating in the warm thermal springs pool in the early morning as vapor ascends and blends into the cool air; feeling the relaxing properties of the bicarbonate-sulfate-alkaline waters; napping in the garden in the afternoon; strolling the antiques market in Arezzo and finding crystals, cleansing them in the stream and energizing them with sunshine and moonlight; browsing and finding regional cookbooks in the libreria on the square; traveling through the countryside, chatting with Tuscans and other travelers; luncheons in Bagno Vignoni and Cortona; an afternoon at a vineyard and wine estate in Montalcino; an underground tour of an impressive wine cellar in Montepulciano, contemplating the fabulous story of its origins; then soaking before bedtime in the thermal springs pool, under the stars.

Refreshed by this timeless-line of experiences, we return to a timeline we inhabit: the one with to-do lists and clocks that show, with precision, the current hours, minutes, and seconds. 

It’s another Saturn-Day — to be followed, naturally, by Sun-day, Moon-day, Mars-day, Mercury-Day, Jupiter-Day and Venus-Day…

The great teacher seems satisfied with our progress. We’ve learned that while hell and purgatory have limits and loops and billable hours, paradise expands endlessly in response to one’s co-creative spirit.

“Ma tutti fanno bello il primo giro, 

e differentemente han dolce vita

per sentir più e men l’etterno spiro.” 

Dante, Paradiso 4.34 – 4.36

References:

Curzio Malaparte. Maledetti Toscani – con un saggio critico di Luigi Martellini. Milano: Leonardo, (1994).

Dante Alighieri. La Commedia (1320).

Deborah Stewart. This Jungian Life Podcast, Episode 174: Time and Truth about Its Use 

M. C. KavenyBillable Hours in Ordinary Time: A Theological Critique of the Instrumentalization of Time in Professional Life, 33 Loy. U. Chi. L. J. 173 (2002).  Available at: https://lawecommons.luc.edu/luclj/vol33/iss1/7

Michel de Montaigne. Journal du Voyage en Italie (1774).

Oliver Burkeman. Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

The works of Virgil containing his Pastorals, Georgics and Aeneis : adorn’d with a hundred sculptures / translated into English verse by Mr. Dryden. Virgil., Virgil. Bucolica., Virgil. Georgica., Virgil. Aeneis., Dryden, John, 1631-1700. London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, 1697.


Details:

Accommodations: Albergo Posta Marcucci | Other wellness hotels in Bagno Vignoni: the Albergo le Terme and the Adler Spa Resort.

Enjoy a cozy dining experience in Bagno Vignoni at Osteria del Leone.

Refine your knowledge of Tuscan cuisine in a cooking class with Michelin-starred chef Silvia Regi Baracchi, Maître de Maison at Relais & Chateaux Il Falconiere in Cortona (Executive Chef Richard Titi). A place and experience so authentic, fantastic, and welcoming — it feels as if you’ve landed in an Etruscan timeline.

Muse on the gorgeous landscape from a high-altitude estate and learn more about Brunello di Montalcino at the Gloder family’s Poggio Antico winery.

Visit the De’ Ricci wine cellar in Montepulciano, organized by tour operator, Umbria Con Me.

Stroll through and find special items at the Arezzo Antiques Market (“every first Sunday of the month and the preceding Saturday”). Dine afterwards at Tabac Club in the historic center, Via Beccheria 3/B


The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization mentioned in this article.


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