Walking is something scientists believe we’ve been doing for somewhere between 250,000 and 1.6 million years, when Homo erectus, first decided to go upright. Why that distant ancestor decided to stand up remains a mystery. To get a better view across the tall grasses? To reach the forest – and food – beyond those grasses more quickly? To make himself look bigger when confronted by a potential attacker? Was he an outsider, or just a regular neanderthal looking for a bit of novelty?
Whatever led that first ‘walker’ to stand up, it was a radical move, that none of the other 250 species of primates on the planet has yet to pick up. This had led scientists to make all sorts of probably scientifically correct, if rather unflattering comments. One anthrolopologist describes walking as a ‘unique and bizarre form of locomotion’. Others have declared it the defining feature of being human. Really?
However you define the essence of being human, from the first time we struggled to get up off our bottoms, we’ve all got used to doing it. And although many of us still struggle to get off our bottoms, few of us aren’t aware of the many benefits to be gained from doing so.
Turn on the radio or TV, or open a magazine these days and you’re bound to find something about the benefits of walking. Or google ‘walking, benefits’ and pages and pages of sites extolling its virtues come up. You might even start wondering if it isn’t the philosophers’ elusive gold.
Walking, we’re told, prevents or decreases heart disease, stroke and diabetes; lowers bad cholesterol and increases the good kind; strengthens bones, improves balance and coordination, thus reducing falls in the elderly – and since we’re all getting more elderly, none of us wants to fall, because the next thing you know, you’ve broken a hip and landed in hospital, where if you don’t get zapped by some nasty super bug, you get pneumonia and we all know where that leads to.
Under the olive trees on one of the terraces I came across a spectacular clump of flowers. With its soft pink blossoms, long thick stem and lack of foliage, it looked a lot like Amaryllis. But it couldn’t be. The only experience I’d had with Amaryllis was that of a bulb you bought, usually in a brightly decorated box, in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You put the bulb in the pot and bit of soil that came with the bulb – making sure the soil covered only the bottom third of the bulb – and then you hoped you’d get lucky and the Amaryllis would be in full bloom for Christmas. How could such a flower be growing, let alone thriving, in the dry, rocky corner of a mountainside terrace?
Since I didn’t think I’d get anywhere by googling ‘pink flower on long stem growing wild on terraces of Amalfi Coast’ I decided, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything else, to look up Amaryllis. To my amazement, up came a photo of the very flower gloriously blooming on that Amalfi Coast terrace. There was also a description of its growth habits:
‘The leaves are produced in the autumn or early spring in warm climates depending on the onset of rain and eventually die down by late spring. The bulb is then dormant until late summer. The plant is not frost-tolerant, nor does it do well in tropical environments since they require a dry resting period between leaf growth and flower spike production. From the dry ground in late summer (…) each bulb produces one or two leafless stems 30–60 cm tall, each of which bears a cluster of 2 to 12 funnel-shaped flowers at their tops.’
I was surprised to learn on a trip to Italy’s northern lake district a few years ago that Italians do not share the typical foreigner’s romantic notions about the cypress tree. The cipresso (chee-press-soh) for many Italians is primarily associated with death. Cypresses are always planted around cemeteries, something I had somehow failed to notice before. I suppose that on a dull, cold, foggy day – do they even have those on the Amalfi Coast? – the narrow, conical trees might take on a somewhat spectral appearance, but on this hot, sunny day, I was throughly happy to see them. Minori’s cemetery was at the edge of town. I was almost at the end of my walk down the mountain.
In Italy it’s not the candy sellers that look forward to October, but the florists and nurserymen – especially those that grow Chrysanthemums. The Festa dei Santi e dei Morti is held the first weekend of November. The first of these two holidays, which in 2014 fell on November 1, is dedicated to celebrating the saints. The second, aka Commemorazione dei Defunti, which always strikes me as much more decorous than ‘Festa‘ of the Dead’, is all about remembering the dead. People bring flowers – Chrysanthemums are the flower of choice – never, ever bring Mums as a hostess guilt in Italy! – to put on the graves of their loved ones. And votive candles. In some places there seems to be some kind of controversy about those candles. (Some cemeteries have switched over to LED lights. I’ll write more about it when I get back to Tuscany.) But it is a kerfuffle that doesn’t seem to have made its way to Minori, where you can set your loved one’s grave ablaze with a croce (cross) or cuore (heart) mounted with as many as 16 candles if you want.
In Italy, where space has always been at a premium, many tombs are vertical. I wonder how much longer we’ll be able to keep on burying our dead in the beautiful, but enormous park-like setting of a typical Canadian cemetery. There was an article in the paper recently of a cemetery in Mexico City where gravesides are available only on a leasing basis. When the lease is up – three years on average – what is left of the body is dug up – without any pretence of dignity if the photo that accompanied the article is any indication – to make room for the next leaseholder…
It was good to return to the land of the living. As I made my way down the last set of steps to the harbour, I vowed, yet again, to make time for that life-prolonging, daily walk.
It’s also apparently good for our brains –