Teachers' Blog

The Forgotten Art of Lean-To

Funny thing is, we realized it’s been years since we last took a dip in the Mediterranean.
Years—maybe ten. Once it was a regular thing, but for too many summers to count,
we’ve grown used to visiting my family on Cape Cod, so the beach has come to mean the bracing, enlivening Atlantic and nothing else.

Somehow we’d forgotten the Mediterranean pleasures just down the road from
home—here. Forgotten until last Tuesday. Tail-end of summer, a whole day without
appointments, and we figured we deserved a treat after the amazing job Valeria had done of organizing Michael Chance’s SienAgosto Summer Music Academy at the Siena
School for Liberal Arts.

Valeria prepared our picnic lunch while I made sure the rolled-up straw-mats
were still in the trunk of the car. Beach towels ready, bathing suits, wine for the picnic,
extra bottles of water, and off we headed toward Marina di Alberese, our favorite
destination from way back when.

A thrill to see well-remembered places again. Almost at the coast, the road to
Alberese crosses the flat expanse where the Maremmana cattle live.

Looks like Wyoming, but it’s Tuscany.

Then the gorgeous forest begins, the Pineta Granducale dell’Uccellina, umbrella
pines giving fragrance and shade to the outermost edge of terra firma.

When I moved to this part of the world twenty-five years ago, I couldn’t grasp
why Italians often associate seaside summers with the smell of pine trees. Made no sense to a New Englander like me. Now I understand.

On the beach itself, people put the pines to good use. If you want to make
yourself a cool spot on the hot, soft sand, you need only give new life to the skeletal
remains of somebody else’s lean-to.

Valeria, a genius in creating comfort from simple ingredients, had come equipped
with clothespins—crucial tools in the art of manufacturing shade.

No pictures of the swims. Some forms of happiness deserve the bliss of privacy.
I will say only that, while swimming in ultra-buoyant salty liquid warmth, I remembered
how much I had missed the Mediterranean Sea.
Afterward, a walk, and farther up the beach I found the gathering place of sunwhitened
pine bones, with islands of the Tuscan Archipelago in the distance.

Return to the straw mat beneath our temporary canopy for absolute unwinding.

On the horizon toward the southwest, Montecristo, remote, hovering between reality and myth.

It won’t be another ten years before we lie again and watch clouds drift in the Mediterranean sky.

Jeff Shapiro,

Creative Writing teacher