Good Reading : July 2008
JULY 2008 ı goodreading 25 ahead of us to the Islands of the Winds in a crate. We arrived in winter. It was cold and windy. People locked themselves away. Our house had no heating. Our baby kept us up all through the night, eating, crying and eating again. Sleep deprivation haunted us and our relationship began to suffer. As the months drew on we found ourselves drifting apart. My wife was learning to become a mother. I was learning about life on the sea, while up in the hills I had Nino, a peasant farmer, as my guide. As my relationship crumbled at home, I found myself side by side with Nino more and more. He gave sage advice, and together we almost burnt down the whole island. We were attempting to clear the grass on Nino’s land with a match, and an off- duty fireman. In a matter of moments bushes were exploding all around us, and the flames were heading for the hills. ‘RUN!’ the fireman suddenly screamed. He legged it down the track with Nino hot on his heels.The fire was completely out of control. Prickly pear cacti buckled and collapsed; huge flowering fennel plants were overwhelmed; wor mwood, wild oats and dead thistles evaporated in balls of flame. In barely a minute the fire had raged across an expanse of pasture and scrub almost as far as the feet of the cliffs that led up to the vineyards. It was left up to a water-bombing plane from Naples to put out the blaze. Through Nino I learnt that the flu could be caught from the tailwind of a passing car too, and that a menstruating woman could ruin an entire crop of capers. I found out about the importance of family, and what makes a home. And I felt the pleasure of providing for your family – not with money, but with food you’ve grown yourself, with love instead of chemicals. On one occasion I joined the boys on the fishing boat, with knives in our belts, as we made our way to tackle a group of Sicilian pirates who we believed had stolen our prawn baskets. I drank wine so rough it made my tongue spasm, and picnicked in olive groves on goat’s cheese sprinkled with herbs from the verge. And I fell in love with my wife again. Together we helped Nino harvest everything from potatoes to olives. We joined in with his family as they crushed grapes by foot, prepared a year’s worth of tomato sauce, and baked their fortnightly stockpile of bread in a giant oven beneath the shadow of a volcano. But something else fundamental was happening, to both of us, which we wouldn’t understand until long after we’d returned to Australia. I knew there was something wrong with my life before I’d left for Lipari, but I hadn’t been able to put a finger on it. For years I’d been stale and unproductive. I’d lost energy for things. Everything about the city seemed worn out. My relationships had lost their crispness. On Lipari things were happening under the surface.The weeds that had entrapped me were gone. I was regenerating. There were many reasons why we decided to return to Australia, not least because it was simply time.We had largely come to terms with our roles as parents and partners.We wanted a house of our own, to call home at last. Back in Sydney we bolted ahead, while everyone around us seemed to stay still. My wife went out in business alone. We found a house in a small community, surrounded by forest and sea: our own little island. I started to write my book. Fits of despair rolled into elation when I’d finally finished another draft, only to find it was still awful the next time I looked at it. I got caught up in intricate re- writing, playing with almost every word, then pared paragraphs down until they disintegrated, and ended up replacing them with the originals, which appeared not much better. It took many long nights, lubricated with red wine, to pour myself out onto the pages, until I truly had nothing else to give. Not even a title. That came courtesy of my consulting publisher, or rather, her animator husband. Finding Nino. I oved it straight away. I had found Nino. And his pirit is still inside me. Finding Nino by Marc Llewellyn is published by HarperCollins, rrp $32.99. Visit www.findingnino.com.au for more nformation about the islands. behind the book Nino in his vineyard. Nino on an island donkey. A local takes his dog for a ride.