Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is the grass really greener on the other side?

The edge of Trieste touches the Adriatic Sea, stretches inland a bit, then quickly slopes up about 900 feet and becomes the Carso--a protected wildlife area with miles of forests and underground caves. We live in the Carso area, which befuddles our city-dwelling friends. "Why would you want to live so far from the city?" they ask. "You have to drive to the store?? How inconvenient!"

We scoff at this, of course. The city center is a 15 minute drive, and the nearest village with a supermarket is 3 minutes away by car--nanoseconds by American suburban standards. And since we have three kids, we love that they can run out the front door and play outside.

But this post isn't about convenience or commutes, it's about grass (the lawn kind, of course). Here's a photo of the field right next to our building, where our kids often play with their friends:

How nice, you may be thinking. And it does look nice...from here. Now take a gander at a close-up shot of the grass:
Yup. Brown patches, weeds, rocks. Not exactly a carpet of green grass, is it? In fact, the Italian term for "weeds" is erba matta--crazy grass. Like it's still grass, just the crazy kind. Nevertheless, our Italian city-folk friends all ooh and ahh over the bel prato--beautiful field--we have here.
This is a common area for everyone who lives in the building, and there's a groundskeeper who works year-round. Everyone says how bravo he is because he keeps the grass/weeds mowed.
In the U.S., this lawn would never do. The ground would have been plowed, sod laid, seeds sowed and a lawn chemical treatment company called upon--stat.
When we lived in the States, my Italian husband was baffled by the American lawn-care ritual. Everyone would work on their lawn on weekends--mowing, bagging, aerating, fertilizing, and then calling Chem Lawn for an appointment. Neighbors would debate the best kind of grass--should we go with Kentucky Bluegrass or tall fescue?
All of this hustle and bustle produces gorgeous lawns, of course. But one thing puzzled my husband.
"Americans don't walk on their grass," he said one day.
"What?" I answered. "Of course we walk on our grass."
"No, you don't. Not unless you're mowing it."
"But look at them, over there," I said, pointing to some kids running through the sprinkler.
"Kids venture onto the grass, but adults don't."
And he was right. Why is that? Because we don't want to trample the grass, that's why. We have porches and decks and patios and front stoops where we can hang out. Just don't tread on the grass.
Italians might not have carpet-like lawns, but they definitely earn aesthetic points with their flower boxes. They couldn't care less about their grass, but they preen and water and fertilize the flowers that adorn their window sills. In Virgina, I rarely saw a flower box. Here, I rarely see a house or building without one.
Here's a house in the village where my in-laws live. Check out these geraniums:
The flowers even match the laundry on the drying rack out front. Now that's aesthetics for you (as long as you don't focus on the rubble in the yard where a lawn is supposed to be...).
Here's a photo of the flowers on our front balcony:
Our building isn't as interesting as the stone house in the previous picture, but it would be even less interesting without the flowers, don't you think?
I've never had a green thumb, and the thought of keeping up with a yard every weekend is daunting, to say the least. Flower boxes are just my speed. I can pick off the dried-up blooms as I chat with neighbors down below, or water the flowers while my toddler throws his toys off the balcony.
Sure, the grass may be greener on the other side of the Atlantic, but the flowers bloom brighter under the Italian sun.


Rilla said...

I couldn't agree more, Natalie. I haven't been to Italy, but have always loved the flower boxes in Spain and France. The bright reds and pinks against the old stone or stucco and heavy wood are just so charming. Frankly, this is the first time we have ever owned a lawn, after coming back to the states and it is a PAIN! Not only that, who needs the water consumption of a lawn in the desert!! Needless to say, we plan to phase out the lawn gradually. That is, as soon as we grow a green thumb ;)

Natalie said...

Hi Rilla!

Flowers do so much for any building, don't they? I love seeing flowers spilling over their boxes, especially at the end of the summer. The villages in the Italian Alps have the most beautiful flowers I've ever seen--all that mountain air and being 6,000 feet closer to the sun must do the trick.

I feel for you on the lawn care--have you thought about astro-turf? ;-)

debi in holland said...

Ireland had wonderful flower boxes, too! I just loved that!

We lived in this adorable little town, and they had hanging baskets of flowers on the houses, streetlights, old water pumps . . .

Soooo pretty!

patrizia said...

Love the pictures. The flowers are gorgeous. Like you I don't have much of a green thumb. And having lived in an apartment for so many years, I'm not sure I'd know what to do with a lawn.

what'sinyoursoul said...

Ah, Natalie, I have always wanted to visit Trieste...the haunting name, the wind, the extraordinary writers who have written there - James Joyce, Umberto Saba, Italo Svevo. It's a pleasure to read your accounts (and a guilty one to see that my lawn neglect may in some part be due to my Italian longing). :)


Natalie said...

Hi Debi,

I think having flowers everywhere is a European thing, don't you think? You must love the gorgeous tulips in Holland, too!

Ciao Patrizia,

I'm with you on the lawn thing--flower boxes are much easier!

Hi Holly,

I'm impressed that you know so much about Trieste...most people don't even know where it is on the map (myself included, when I heard the word Trieste for the first time). Thanks for stopping by!

becky said...

hi, we were recently walking around the village of Sante Croce on the carso and saw (and smelt) a wonderful flower. It was a wild climbing plant with hard, spiky tipped leaves and long strands of yellow flowers. The smell was very sweet. I would be really grateful if you could identify it for me.